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Despite Trump's crackdown, Americans are more sympathetic to immigrants, poll shows

Despite Trump's crackdown, Americans are more sympathetic to immigrants, poll shows
Clergy members and others lock arms in solidarity during a protest against U.S. immigration policies that drew hundreds of people to Brownsville, Texas, on Thursday. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The share of Americans who would like to see fewer immigrants in the country has continued to decline despite President Trump's push to restrict both legal and illegal migration, a new poll showed Thursday.

Large majorities also reject Trump's claims that immigrants commit more crimes and take jobs away from American workers, according to the survey by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.

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And, despite a series of highly publicized incidents in recent months in which people speaking languages other than English have come under verbal attack, the share of Americans who say they are “bothered” by immigrants speaking other languages has gone down.

About three-quarters of Americans say they at least sometimes encounter immigrants who speak little or no English. The share reporting such encounters has more than doubled since the 1990s as immigrant populations have spread throughout the country. But the share of Americans who say they are bothered by such encounters has dropped from nearly 40% a decade ago to about 25% today, the poll showed.

The survey provides the latest evidence that the bloc of voters who support further immigration restrictions remain a distinct minority in the U.S., albeit one with disproportionate clout given their sway within the Trump administration.

Trump began his presidential campaign denouncing illegal immigration, but quickly began to back restrictions on legal immigration as well. He has pushed Congress to accept sharp new restrictions on legal immigration, so far to no avail.

As recently as 2001, a majority of Americans said that they would like to see lower levels of legal immigration. But support for tighter immigration restrictions has steadily declined. Currently only about one-quarter of Americans take that position.

A Department of Homeland Security police officer watches protest outside the federal courthouse in Brownsville, Texas, on Thursday.
A Department of Homeland Security police officer watches protest outside the federal courthouse in Brownsville, Texas, on Thursday. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

By contrast, support for higher levels of immigration has gone from about one-tenth of Americans in the early 2000s to about one-third today, the poll showed. About four in 10 support keeping current levels.

The biggest shift has taken place among Democrats, whose support for greater levels of legal immigration has shot up in the past three years, probably at least partly in reaction to Trump’s assaults on immigrants. About 40% of Democrats and independents who lean toward the Democrats said they favor increased immigration, and a similar share favor keeping current levels. Liberal Democrats and those younger than 50 show especially strong support for higher immigration levels, the poll showed.

Even among Trump’s fellow Republicans, however, the restrictionist camp has lost ground. Support for cutting legal immigration has declined about 10 percentage points among Republicans and independents who lean toward the GOP over the past decade. Currently, about one in three on the Republican side support cutting legal immigration; about one in five support higher legal immigration levels and about four in 10 think the current levels are about right.

Among Republicans, the restrictionist position gets its strongest support among people older than 50 and those without a college degree — both core constituencies for Trump. Even among those groups, however, majorities do not support cutting legal immigration.

As Americans have shifted toward favoring higher levels of legal immigration, they also have grown less likely to favor punitive action against those who entered illegally.

About two-thirds of Americans reject the idea that granting legal status to some immigrants who entered illegally is a “reward for doing something wrong.” The share who see legal status as a reward for wrongdoing has dropped in the past two years, especially among Democrats.

Trump repeatedly has linked immigrants to crime. Most Americans disagree with that view, although Republicans divide closely.

Asked if they believed immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally were more likely than U.S. citizens to commit serious crimes, about two-thirds of Americans said no. Democrats and independents who lean Democratic overwhelmingly rejected that view. Republicans were closely divided, with conservative Republicans agreeing by 47% to 40% and moderates disagreeing by 57% to 33%.

Similarly, a large majority of Americans rejected the idea that immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally “mostly fill jobs that U.S. citizens would like.” About seven in 10 Americans said those immigrants “mostly fill jobs U.S. citizens do not want.” That majority was consistent across different ages, races and even across the partisan divide.

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Nearly seven in 10 American said they feel sympathetic toward people who entered the country illegally. A majority of those who identify themselves as conservative Republicans, however, say they feel unsympathetic. Republicans overall divide equally.

The Pew survey was conducted by telephone, including cellphones and landlines, June 5-12 among 2,002 American adults. The margin of error is 2.6 percentage points in either direction for the full sample.

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