America's Views of Immigration: The Evidence from Public Opinion Surveys
Over the past decade the United States has once again truly become a nation of immigrants. The share of the foreign-born population is approaching the historical high, and if both immigrants and their U.S.-born children are taken into account, the foreign-stock population now constitutes a bigger slice of the U.S. population than at any time since the early years of the 20th century.
For most Americans, however, immigration sits at the edge of their peripheral vision, far from their most pressing concerns. When attention does focus on the issue, Americans are divided over both immigration’s impact and the best ways to manage it. On the most difficult issues — those involving unauthorized migrants — public opinion surveys reveal both anxiety and ambivalence. Most Americans express distress about the phenomenon of illegal immigration but not about the people. In the past, anxiety over immigration has tended to increase during periods of rising unemployment, but during the recession immigration has actually dropped as a policy priority. Meanwhile, the issue has been largely absent from public debate since efforts to enact comprehensive immigration reform legislation reached a stalemate in June 2007.
Drawing on several sources of survey data, this report will examine the major contours of American public opinion toward immigration and immigration policy.
I. Immigration: A Second-Tier Policy Priority
II. Overall Opinion on Immigration: Favorable, though Divided
III. Growing Anxiety over Illegal Immigration: Who Is Most Concerned?
IV. The 2008 Election: The Dog that Did Not Bark
V. Policy Options: Support for Legalization and Enforcement