Americans Warming Up to Immigration, Poll Shows

President Donald Trump listens during a meeting with Republican members of Congress on immigration in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Wednesday, June 20, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

(CN) – As the Trump administration faces sustained scrutiny over immigrant family separations and child detention facilities, Americans from both parties increasingly support higher levels of legal immigration, the Pew Research Center said Thursday.

The Pew report is based on survey conducted from June 5 to 12 among 2,002 American adults that revealed some convergence among Democrats and Republicans on favorability of increased legal immigration.

Overall, 32 percent of respondents said that legal immigration should increase, marking a 22-point jump from 2001.

Inversely, respondents who said that legal immigration should be decreased dropped from 53 percent in 2001 to 24 percent this year, while 38 percent said legal immigration should be kept at the current level.

Republicans were less inclined to support increased legal immigration, but the percentage had jumped from 15 percent in 2001 to 22 percent this year, and their support for decreased legal immigration fell 10 points to 33 percent. Thirty-nine percent of Republicans said legal immigration should stay where it is.

Forty percent of Democrats showed support for higher levels of legal immigration, and only 16 percent said they want to see a decrease.

For proper context, Pew researchers made clear that the survey was “largely conducted before the crisis at the US-Mexico border involving migrant children being separated from their parents” was brought to the public’s attention.

In fact, Americans’ opinions on immigration may be a product of broader misunderstandings of most immigrants’ legal status in the United States.

Overall, 35 percent of respondents believe that most immigrants are in the country illegally, which Pew noted was incorrect. Thirteen percent were unsure of most immigrants’ legal status.

According to Pew estimates, 75 percent of immigrants in the United States have legal status as of 2015, the most recent year of available data.

More Republicans than Democrats held the incorrect assumption about immigrants’ legal status, but the highest disparity appeared in the Hispanic demographic. Fifty-nine percent of Hispanic respondents said that most immigrants were here illegally, and 33 percent were correct in believing that most are legal.

However, most Americans do not believe undocumented immigrants are more likely than U.S. citizens to commit crimes, according to Pew.

Forty-two percent of Republicans said illegal immigrants are more likely than American-born citizens to commit serious crimes, compared to 46 percent of Republicans who said they are not.

An overwhelming majority of Democrats (80 percent) said undocumented immigrants are not more likely to commit crimes.

Regarding jobs, Americans in every demographic overwhelmingly agreed that immigrants fill jobs that U.S. citizens do not want, with 71 percent of respondents overall holding that view.

The partisan divide was clearest regarding sympathy for undocumented immigrants and opinions on a legal path to citizenship.

Democratic respondents were overwhelmingly sympathetic toward undocumented immigrants at 86 percent – 47 percent were “somewhat” sympathetic, and 39 percent were “very” sympathetic.

Republicans were evenly split on the issue – 48 percent indicated some level of sympathy for immigrants in the U.S. illegally, while 49 percent said that they were unsympathetic.

About two-thirds of Americans said they don’t think that giving undocumented immigrants a way to gain legal status is like rewarding them for doing something wrong, according to the survey.

However, 47 percent of Republicans said a path to citizenship for those in the U.S. illegally is like a reward for wrongdoing. Only 10 percent of Democrats felt the same.

Additionally, a majority (62 percent) of Republicans said undocumented immigrants today are less willing to adapt to “the American way of life” than immigrants in the early 1900s. Almost half of Democrats (43 percent) said they are “about as willing.”

Overall, 26 percent of respondents said today’s immigrants are more willing to adapt, 32 percent said they were equally willing and 36 percent said immigrants were less willing to adapt today compared to a century ago.

The Pew survey comes amid First Lady Melania Trump’s visits to immigrant shelters across the United States, including a visit to a facility in Arizona on Thursday.

In a previous visit last week, she wore a controversial jacket to a facility in McAllen, Texas bearing the phrase, “I really don’t care, do u?” The jacket was widely seen as a dismissal of public concerns about immigrant families’ treatment at the facilities.

A spokesperson for the first lady dismissed assertions that any sort of statement was made with the jacket, but President Donald Trump indicated in a tweet that it was meant to fire back at the press.

Trump tweeted, “Melania has learned how dishonest they are, and she truly no longer cares!”

The Trump administration has been steadfast in seeking immigration policies that are beneficial to American citizens since Trump took office.

However, changing attitudes toward immigrants, as indicated in the Pew survey, could undermine the effectiveness of the administration’s family separation policy in terms of both public perception and midterm elections just months away.

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