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Immigration in the U.S

Immigration Surges to Top of Most Important Problem List

By Frank Newport

  • 22% in July say immigration is the nation's most important problem
  • Previous high was 19% naming immigration in April 2006
  • Over a third of Republicans say immigration is top problem

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Immigration has risen to the top of the list when Americans are asked to name the most important problem facing the nation -- edging out the government, which has been the top issue each month since January 2017. The 22% of Americans in July who say immigration is the top problem is up from 14% in June and is the highest percentage naming that issue in Gallup's history of asking the "most important problem" question. The previous high had been 19%.

Mentions of immigration as the nation's most important problem have averaged 5% over the 17 years Gallup has been asking the question on a monthly basis. When Americans' naming of immigration as the top problem has exceeded that average by a significant margin, it has reflected real-world events, political attention being paid to the topic, fluctuating salience of other issues and news coverage.

Immigration reached 19% of mentions as the top problem facing the nation in April 2006, as Congress was wrestling with the effort to pass a comprehensive immigration bill and as immigration protests in cities across the country dominated news coverage. Citations of immigration as the top problem rose again in the summer of 2014, as news attention focused on large numbers of immigrants attempting to enter the U.S. from Central America.

Concerns over immigration have spiked again at points over the past two years, reflecting President Donald Trump's continued focus on illegal immigration, and the administration's often controversial policies designed to deal with the issue. The July survey came as news outlets and social media focused on reports of children being separated from their parents in response to Trump administration policies of apprehending families entering the country illegally. Trump subsequently modified that policy. The administration has also increased the actions of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency in finding and deporting individuals living and working in the country illegally.

Now, in Gallup's July 1-11 update, immigration has risen to the historical high point of 22%, topping the most important problem list for only the second time in Gallup's history. The other was in July 2014, when waves of minors migrating from Central America crossed the Southern U.S. border.

Both Republicans and Democrats More Likely to Mention Immigration in July

Republicans have become increasingly likely this year to name immigration as the nation's top problem, while, until recently, mentions of immigration had remained relatively low among independents and Democrats.

This month, Republican views of immigration as the top problem have spiked to 35% from 21% in June. But the issue is becoming more top of mind to independents and Democrats as well; 18% of Democrats cited immigration this month, up from 10% in June, and independents' mentions are up four percentage points, to 17%.

Immigration has jumped among Republicans as the top problem at other points in recent times -- including 29% last February, when it became a major sticking point in congressional debate on a new budget bill. At that time, however, mentions of immigration among independents (12%) and especially Democrats (5%) remained relatively low.

Of course, partisan groups almost certainly have differing reasons for viewing immigration as the top problem currently. Republicans are likely thinking of the underlying problem of illegal immigration per se and its impact on the nation's economy and crime situation, while Democrats may be thinking more about the negative impact of the Trump administration's policies and actions in cracking down on immigration.

The partisan divide on immigration is not new. In April 2006, the previous high point for immigration as the most important problem (19% overall), 30% of Republicans, 16% of independents and 11% of Democrats named immigration as the top problem. In July 2014, when overall concerns about immigration reached 17%, the partisan split was 23% Republicans, 16% independents and 11% Democrats.

Immigration and Government Only Two Problems With Double-Digit Mentions

The 19% of Americans who cite government as the top problem in July is not out of line with what Gallup has found in recent months. Race relations or racism is mentioned by 7%, with concerns about unifying the country and lack of respect for each other coming in at 6% each.

Americans' Views of the Top Problem Facing the U.S.

July 2018


Immigration 22
Dissatisfaction with government/Poor leadership 19
Race relations/Racism 7
Unifying the country 6
Lack of respect for each other 6
Economy in general 4
Healthcare 3
Ethics/Moral/Religious/Family decline 3

One significant takeaway from Gallup's recent updates on the nation's top problem continues to be the absence of concern about the economy.

Just 4% of Americans say the "economy in general" is the top problem. Smaller numbers of Americans mention jobs and unemployment, the federal budget deficit, foreign trade, taxes and other economically related issues. When these are grouped together, the economy receives 14% of mentions, tied with March of this year for the second-lowest net economy mentions in Gallup's 27-year history of grouping economic concerns on a net basis. The lowest, 13%, came in May 1999.

By contrast, net economic issues exceeded 75% nine times as the nation's top problem in 2008, 2009 and 2011, including the high point of 86% in February 2009.

Minor Differences in Top Five Problems for Republicans, Independents and Democrats

The 35% of Republicans who say immigration is the country's top problem is over twice as high as the 15% who mention government.

Government continues to be viewed as the top problem among Democrats, with the 27% mentioning that issue well ahead of the 18% naming immigration. Independents this month are equally likely to cite immigration and government (17% each).

Overall, four problems make the top five list for all three partisan groups: immigration, government, unifying the country and lack of respect for each other. The economy and moral/ethical decline (tied) round out the top five list for Republicans, while race issues complete the top five for the other two groups.

Top Five Most Important Problems Among Republicans, Independents and Democrats

Republicans Independents Democrats
Immigration: 35% Immigration: 17% Government: 27%
Government: 15% Government: 17% Immigration: 18%
Unifying the country: 8% Race relations/Racism: 9% Race relations/Racism: 10%
Lack of respect: 6% Unifying the country: 7% Unifying the country: 5%
(Tie) Economy (general): 4% Lack of respect: 6% Lack of respect: 5%
(Tie) Ethics/Moral decline: 4%
GALLUP, July 1-11, 2018

Bottom Line

The midterm congressional elections are now less than four months away, and the growing prevalence of immigration in Republicans' perceptions of the most important problem facing the nation could make it a fruitful theme for GOP candidates working to retain their party's House and Senate advantages.

President Trump's successful 2016 presidential campaign rested in part on his controversial proposals relating to immigration. He has continued to ratchet up the focus on the issue since taking office through his policy proposals and actions at the border, particularly the highly visible separation of children from parents who cross into the country illegally. Trump's administration has modified its policies on the separation of children and parents. But if the general immigration focus continues through the fall, GOP candidates may be able to fire up the enthusiasm of the part of their base highly concerned about immigration and that in turn favors the Republican approach to this issue.

Of course, to a lesser degree, with a rising percentage of Democrats mentioning immigration as the top problem, Democratic candidates can also gain traction on the issue -- by registering their opposition to Trump and Republican policies and actions.

The most recent Gallup survey was in the field over the first 11 days of July. Since then, news coverage of the Trump administration has shifted to foreign policy with Trump's controversial travels to Brussels, London and Helsinki.

Still, immigration has been a significant top-of-mind concern for Americans, particularly Republicans, for a number of months now, and it's likely that it will remain an important campaign theme no matter what events occur between now and Election Day in November.

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted July 1-11, 2018, with a random sample of 1,033 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 70% cellphone respondents and 30% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View survey methodology, complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.


Opinion | Our Real Immigration Problem

By Bret Stephens|Jun. 21st, 2018

I prefer the window seat.

I like to idle away time on flights trying to guess where and what I’m flying over, without the benefit of the map. I’m hypnotized by the red-beige-brown carpet of California desert; mesmerized by the unbroken wilderness of northern Maine; awed by the peaks and valleys of the Cascades; calmed by the serenity of the Great Lakes.

And I draw a political conclusion: America is vast, largely empty and often lonely. Roughly 80 percent of Americans live in urban areas, covering just 3 percent of the overall landmass. We have a population density of 35 people per square kilometer — as opposed to 212 for Switzerland and 271 for the U.K.

We could use some more people. Make that a lot more.


New American citizens at a naturalization ceremony in Los Angeles in March.CreditMario Tama/Getty Images

That’s a point worth bearing in mind in the larger immigration debate unfolding in Congress. The Trump administration’s policy of forcibly separating migrant Latin American children from their parents was a moral outrage that, had it not been belatedly terminated on Wednesday, would have taken its place in the annals of American ignominy.

It was also a moral outrage that concealed a political folly. As of this writing, House Republicans are flailing in their efforts to pass a comprehensive immigration bill. That’s just as well since, as the Cato Institute’s David Bier points out, even the more moderate of the two G.O.P. bills would have cut overall legal immigration.

But that means we still need real immigration reform, and not simply as an act of decency toward so-called Dreamers brought to this country as children by their undocumented parents. America’s immigration crisis right now is that we don’t have enough immigrants.

Consider some facts.

First: The U.S. fertility rate has fallen to a record low. In May, The Times reported that women “had nearly 500,000 fewer babies than in 2007, despite the fact that there were an estimated 7 percent more women in their prime childbearing years.” That’s a harbinger of long-term, Japanese-style economic decline.

Second: Americans are getting older. In 2010 there were more than 40 million Americans over the age of 65. By 2050 the number will be closer to 90 million, or an estimated 22.1 percent of the population. That won’t be as catastrophic as Japan, where 40.1 percent of people will be over 65. But remember: We’ve only avoided Japan’s demographic fate so far by resisting its longstanding anti-immigration policies.

Third: The Federal Reserve has reported labor shortages in multiple industries throughout the country. That inhibits business growth. Nor are the shortages only a matter of missing “skills”: The New American Economy think tank estimates that the number of farm workers fell by 20 percent between 2002 and 2014, accounting for $3 billion a year in revenue losses.

Fourth: Much of rural or small-town America is emptying out. In hundreds of rural counties, more people are dying than are being born, according to the Department of Agriculture. The same Trumpian conservatives who claim to want to save the American heartland from the fabled Latin American Horde are guaranteeing conditions that over time will turn the heartland into a wasteland.

Fifth: The immigrant share (including the undocumented) of the U.S. population is not especially large: About 13.5 percent, high by recent history but below its late 19th century peak of 14.8 percent. In Israel, the share is 22.6 percent; in Australia, 27.7 percent, according to O.E.C.D. data, another indicator of the powerful correlation between high levels of immigration and sustained economic dynamism.

Finally, immigrants — legal or otherwise — make better citizens than native-born Americans. More entrepreneurial. More church-going. Less likely to have kids out of wedlock. Far less likely to commit crime. These are the kind of attributes Republicans claim to admire.

Or at least they used to, before they became the party of Trump — of his nativism, demagoguery, and penchant for capricious cruelty. It was nice to hear Republican legislators decry the family separation policy. But there’s no sugarcoating the fact that a plurality of Republicans, 46 percent, favored it, while only 32 percent were opposed, according to an Ipsos poll commissioned by the Daily Beast.

This isn’t a party that’s merely losing its policy bearings. It’s one that’s losing its moral sense. If anti-Semitism is the socialism of fools, then opposition to immigration is the conservatism of morons. It mistakes identity for virtue, entitlement for merit, geographic place for moral value. In a nation of immigrants, it’s un-American.

I’ll be accused of wanting open borders. Subtract terrorists, criminals, violent fanatics and political extremists from the mix, and I plead guilty to wanting more-open borders. Come on in. There’s more than enough room in this broad and fruitful land of the free.

Does America face a refugee or an immigration problem?

Jun. 29th, 2018

Separating children from their parents at the southwest border ignited a broad emotional outcry not often seen in the country’s long-running immigration debate. After weeks of defending the policy both as a deterrent and necessary to make the border legally meaningful, President Donald Trump and his administration reversed course.

The policy switch was itself a rarity for Trump, and it prompted the host of NBC’s Meet the Press Chuck Todd to ask the guests on his June 24 show, "Is this more of a refugee crisis than an immigration crisis?"

There is no definitive answer, but to frame the issue in terms of refugees instead of immigration redefines the problem.

"It becomes more of a humanitarian problem, than a jobs or economic one," said Sarah Pierce, an immigration analyst with the Migration Policy Institute.

We looked at what the data have to say.

For decades, the bulk of people crossing the southwest border without permission were Mexican. They worked on American farms, built American homes, processed American pigs, beef and chickens, and did other manual work.

The people showing up at the border today are more likely to come from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, a cluster known as the Northern Triangle. In 2017, non-Mexicans stopped at the southwest border outnumbered Mexicans by 50,000.

Not only are those nations poor, they are also particularly violent. The highest murder rates in the world are found in El Salvador and Honduras.

As the places people came from changed, so did the demographics of who was caught at the border.

Between 2013 and 2017, the number of families apprehended by Customs and Border Patrol agents rose five-fold, from 14,855 to 75,622.

Minors (anyone under 18) went from 7 percent of all people stopped at the border in 2011 to 27 percent in 2017 – nearly a four-fold increase. In the same period, the fraction of females, both children and adults, doubled from 13 percent of all apprehensions to 26 percent.

"The recent crisis brings very different immigrants from those who were undocumented and came in the 1990s," said economist Giovanni Peri at University of California, Davis. "They are younger, more vulnerable and more similar to refugees."

Peri, along with most researchers, emphasizes that migrants have a blend of motivations. In the case of the Northern Triangle countries, escaping poverty and fleeing violence go hand in hand.

Teasing out the relative weight of each is tricky.

Fortunately for us, one economist took a stab at it.

Around 2012, a surge of teenagers without their parents began arriving at the southwest border. By 2013, for the first time, the unaccompanied minors from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras outnumbered those from Mexico. In 2014, they accounted for 75 percent of arrivals at the border.

U.S. authorities ended up collecting detailed information on 178,825 minors. Critically, that data included the towns and cities they had left behind.

Economist Michael Clemens at the Center for Global Development took that location data and ran it against the homicide data specific to those places. Violence, Clemens noted, isn’t spread evenly. It concentrates in hot spots.

He also folded in figures for local unemployment, income, poverty and school enrollment.

Clemens found that murders drive migration, but it wasn’t as simple as people fleeing the areas with the highest murder rates. What mattered most was a rise in homicides.

Clemens determined that on average, an increase of 1.08 homicides per year over four years in a community led to one additional minor from that community at the American border each year. To further complicate the picture, a jump in murders had a snowball effect, driving migration numbers up for several years going forward, even if the violence leveled off.

Clemens also found that poverty alone didn’t drive migration. Teenagers – and it was mainly 16-and-17-year-olds – tended not to come from the poorest places, but from places where there was enough money to pay smugglers to shepard minors through Mexico and across the U.S. border.

At the same time, there was a strong connection between sustained poverty and migration.

At the end of the day, Clemens gave about equal weight to violence and economic drivers.

The impact of "short-term increases in violence is roughly equal to the explanatory power of long-term economic characteristics like average income and poverty," Clemens wrote.

Put another way, the surge of minors at the U.S.-Mexico border is both an immigration and refugee issue.

A key caveat to Clemens’ work is that it looked only at unaccompanied minors, and it’s possible that the picture would change if adults and families were included. But based on studies of family migrants, Clemens said it likely would look the same.

"The decision for movement by unaccompanied children is one of safety and opportunity for children, and that is also heavily in the minds of family units," Clemens said. "The two kinds don’t self-report substantially different motives."

Clemens also noted that in the 2011-16 period, changes in U.S. policy had little impact on migration trends from the Northern Triangle.

For decades, a simple correlation tied illegal immigration from Mexico to the United States.

"When the U.S. unemployment rate went down, migration went up," said Jeffrey Passel, senior demographer at Pew Research. "If the unemployment rate went up, migration went down."

That held true through 2010. Then, the pattern stopped.

"After 2010, the unemployment rate dropped dramatically," Passel said. "If this model had held, Mexican migration would have gone up. Instead, Mexican migration went down."

Passel said the rise in numbers from other Central American countries, mainly the Northern Triangle group, is not a simple swap of one group for another. The demographic mix is entirely different.

"There’s something else going on that’s causing the Central American increase," Passel said. "The economy plays a role but it’s not solely determinative."

Passel and other researchers point to several reasons for the breakdown in the traditional pattern of illegal migration. Studies show a drop in the number of young men in Mexico, a group that was always the main source of border crossers. In some areas of Mexico, jobs are more available. And importantly, American border security has gone steadily up since about 2005.

"Just about everybody gets caught now," said Passel. "That seemed to work as a deterrent of Mexican migration, but those same factors don’t seem to be affecting Central American migration."

Peri, the UC Davis economist, suggested that the hardening of the border itself changed the mix of people caught trying to enter illegally.

"The very strict enforcement keeps away people who are motivated mainly by jobs, and selects only very desperate Central Americans, including many kids."

To the extent that dynamic is at work, then the primary solution to an immigration problem fueled a humanitarian one.

Legally, American laws and regulations count someone as a refugee by granting them asylum on the grounds that their personal safety is at risk if they stayed in their home country. As we’ve reported, the number of asylum requests has skyrocketed, but the fraction granted has held steady at about 20 percent.

"If they do not qualify for asylum either then they are not ‘refugees’ in the border sense of someone fleeing for their life and in need of resettlement," said the director of the Center for Immigration Studies Steven Camarota. The center promotes lower and more selective immigration.

"If someone has gone 1,500 miles through Mexico, and did not apply for asylum there, then it implies that they are not so much fleeing for their life, which is suppose to be the case for an asylee, but rather they are looking for a better life in the United States," Camarota said.

Passel at Pew Research noted that ties to family and friends play a large role when migrants pick a destination. Many people stopped at the border have an immediate or extended family member already in the United States. Migrants aim for places where community connections will help them once they arrive.

"Safety is one thing, but you have to live, too," Passel said.

DMU Timestamp: September 17, 2018 17:21

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