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Many unaware that most immigrants in the U.S. are here legally

Published: Jun 28, 2018

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Media contact: Olivia O'Hea, 202-419-4372, oohea@pewresearch.org


Shifting Public Views on Legal Immigration into the U.S.
Many unaware that most immigrants in the U.S. are here legally

WASHINGTON, D.C. (June 28, 2018) – While there has been considerable attention on illegal immigration into the U.S. recently, opinions about legal immigration have undergone a long-term change. Support for increasing the level of legal immigration has risen, while the share saying legal immigration should decrease has fallen, according to a new national survey by Pew Research Center. 

The survey finds that 38% say legal immigration into the United States should be kept at its present level, while 32% say it should be increased and 24% say it should be decreased. 

Since 2001, the share of Americans who favor increased legal immigration into the U.S. has risen 22 percentage points (from 10% to 32%), while the share who support a decrease has declined 29 points (from 53% to 24%). 

The shift is mostly driven by changing views among Democrats. The share of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents who say legal immigration into the U.S. should be increased has doubled since 2006, from 20% to 40%. 

Republicans’ views also have changed, though more modestly. The share of Republicans and Republican leaners who say legal immigration should be decreased has fallen 10 percentage points since 2006, from 43% to 33%. 

Still, about twice as many Republicans (33%) as Democrats (16%) support cutting legal immigration into the U.S. 

The new survey, which was largely conducted before the crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border involving immigrant children being separated from their parents, finds deep and persistent partisan divisions in a number of attitudes toward immigrants, as well as widespread misperceptions among the public overall about the share of the immigrant population in the U.S. that is in this country illegally: 

Fewer than half of Americans know that most immigrants in the U.S. are here legally. Just 45% of Americans say that most immigrants living in the U.S. are here legally; 35% say most immigrants are in the country illegally, while 6% volunteer that about half are here legally and half illegally and 13% say they don’t know. In 2015, the most recent year for which data is available, lawful immigrants accounted for about three-quarters of the foreign-born population in the United States. 

Most feel sympathy toward unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. Nearly-seven-in-ten (69%) are very or somewhat sympathetic toward immigrants who are in the United States illegally. That view has changed little since 2014, when a surge of unaccompanied children from Central America attempted to enter the U.S. at the border. An overwhelming share of Democrats (86%) say they are sympathetic toward immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally, compared with about half of Republicans (48%). 

Fewer say granting legal status to unauthorized immigrants is a “reward.” Just 27% of Americans say that giving people who are in the U.S. illegally a way to gain legal status is like rewarding them for doing something wrong. More than twice as many (67%) say they don’t think of it this way. Since 2015, the share saying that providing legal status for those in the U.S. illegally is akin to a “reward” for doing something wrong has declined 9 percentage points. 

Most Americans do not think undocumented immigrants are more likely to commit serious crimes.Large majorities of Americans say that undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. are not more likely than U.S. citizens to commit serious crimes (65% say this) and that undocumented immigrants mostly fill jobs citizens don’t want (71% say this). These opinions, which also are divided along partisan lines, are virtually unchanged since 2016. 

Most people who encounter immigrants who do not speak English well aren’t bothered by this. Most Americans say they often (47%) or sometimes (27%) come into contact with immigrants who speak little or no English. Among those who say this, just 26% say it bothers them, while 73% say it does not. The share saying they are bothered by immigrants speaking little or no English has declined by 12 percentage points since 2006 (from 38% to 26%) and 19 points since 1993 (from 45%). 

The survey was conducted June 5-12 among 2,002 adults. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 2.6 percentage points for results based on the full sample.

Read the report:http://www.people-press.org/2018/06/28/shifting-public-views-on-legal-immigration-into-the-u-s


For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact Olivia O'Hea at oohea@pewresearch.org or 202-419-4372.

Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world. It does not take policy positions. The Center is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts, its primary funder. Subscribe to our daily and weekly email newsletters or follow us on our Fact Tank blog.

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