Barbara Jordan Vindicated as Americans’ Perceptions of Immigration Take a Negative Turn

“If we cannot control illegal immigration, we cannot sustain our national interest in legal immigration”

By Andrew R. Arthur on August 9, 2022

The UK journal The Economist and the opinion outfit YouGov conducted a largely overlooked poll that included questions about various immigration proposals. That poll revealed that perceptions of immigration have taken a negative turn—likely due to what the editorial board at Bloomberg Opinion termed “Biden’s Border Fiasco”. That poll vindicates the late Barbara Jordan, who warned: “If we cannot control illegal immigration, we cannot sustain our national interest in legal immigration.”  

Does Immigration Make the U.S. Better Off, or Worse? The Economist/YouGov poll of 1,500 U.S. citizens aged 18 and older was conducted between July 23 and 26. It asked respondents, “In general, do you think immigration makes the U.S. better off or worse off, or does it not make much difference?”

Thirty-one percent of those polled stated that immigration makes the United States better off, 35 percent responded that it makes the country worse off, 22 percent asserted that it doesn’t make much difference, and 12 percent weren’t sure. In other words, a plurality viewed immigration negatively, and more than half—57 percent—were either negative or ambivalent about immigration.

Compare that to an earlier poll, also by The Economist/YouGov with the same sample size (1,500 U.S. adult citizens) conducted between September 1 and 3, 2019, in which respondents were asked the same question.

In that poll, a plurality (43 percent) said immigration made the United States better off, 23 percent thought it didn’t make much difference, 19 percent responded that immigration made the country worse off, and 14 percent weren’t sure.

Put differently, the number of Americans who believe that immigration has made the United States worse off has nearly doubled in less than three years, while the percentage who thought it made America better off dropped by nearly a quarter.

What could account for that change? The most obvious explanation is the migrant surge that has created a national-security and humanitarian catastrophe at the Southwest border.  

Record Numbers of Illegal Entrants, Driven by the Administration’s Disrespect for Law. Joe Biden has overseen the largest increase in illegal migration in a short period in U.S. history. While Border Patrol set a new record for migrant apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico line in FY 2021, that record that will be broken (with two reporting months yet to go) when the apprehension numbers for July are published in mid-August. In May, agents also set a new all-time monthly apprehension record.

Still, the number of new unauthorized entrants who are expected after the expiration of CDC orders—issued under Title 42 of the U.S. Code in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, directing DHS to expel all illegal migrants at the border—will dwarf even those record numbers.

The Biden administration increasingly has been honoring CDC’s Title 42 orders only in the breach: Just 47 percent of the migrants apprehended by Border Patrol at the Mexican border were expelled under Title 42 in June, compared to 57 percent during the same month in 2021 (and 80 percent-plus under Trump). 

That decline in expulsions likely relates to the fact that the Biden administration is only continuing Title 42 expulsions under threat of sanction. The president had planned to end Title 42 on May 23, but on May 20, a federal district court judge issued an injunction blocking termination of those orders. The Biden administration is appealing that injunction to the Fifth Circuit.

DHS estimates, however, that once Title 42 ends, up to 18,000 illegal migrants per day will enter the United States illegally. By way of comparison, in May, when Border Patrol set its new all-time monthly record, apprehensions averaged 7,233 daily.  

Thus, if and when Title 42 ends, agents will be dealing with up to 2.5 times as many aliens than they ever have in the past. More saliently for purposes of this analysis, Border Patrol is expected to encounter 7.7 times as many illegal entrants on a daily basis post-Title 42 then they did in FY 2019 (when the earlier poll was completed), a fiscal year so bad (there were an average of 2,333 apprehensions daily), that the then-DHS secretary declared a “border emergency”.

Why are there so many illegal entrants now?  The reasons are numerous, but almost all involve decisions made within the West Wing and Biden’s DHS.

First, shortly after he became president, Biden reversed nearly all of the border policies the Trump administration had implemented to bring the border under control. Despite the fact that the new president promised to install “guardrails” on the system before ending those policies, those protections were never implemented.

Second, the Biden administration—in a stark contrast to every prior presidency—has abandoned the deterrence of illegal entries as a border policy.

In lieu of deterring illegal entrants, as DHS Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas has explained, the Biden administration’s border objective is “to make sure that we have safe, orderly, and legal pathways for individuals to be able to access our legal system”. In other words, Biden’s plan is to guarantee all illegal entrants can apply for asylum, regardless of the strength of their claims or how many years that process takes.

Third, and relatedly, DHS under Biden is ignoring its statutory mandate to detain all illegal migrants from the moment that they are apprehended until such time as they are either granted protection or removed. In fact, the Biden administration has stopped detaining family migrants and is asking for a 25 percent cut in ICE’s overall detention budget for FY 2023.

Instead of detention, the Biden administration has released more than 1.129 million illegal migrants into the United States—not counting unaccompanied alien children and half a million migrant “got-aways” who have successfully evaded apprehension thus far in FY 2022 alone—all while ICE detention space sits empty. Illegal migrants are now seven times more likely to be released into the interior at the border than removed.

Simply put, there are few consequences for illegal entry, and those 1.1 million-plus illegal migrants who have been released can live and work here indefinitely, if not forever—largely thanks to the Biden administration and its poor stewardship of the Southwest border. That’s why the numbers are climbing.

The Vindication of Barbara Jordan. That latest Economist/YouGov poll vindicates warnings about Americans’ popular support for immigration, issued by civil-rights icon Barbara Jordan nearly 28 years ago.

Jordan, the first African-American woman elected to Congress from the South (as a Democratic representative from Texas), served as the chairman of the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform from 1993 until her untimely death in January 1996.  

Presenting the initial findings of her committee to Congress in September 1994, Jordan explained:

If we cannot control illegal immigration, we cannot sustain our national interest in legal immigration. Those who come here illegally, and those who hire them, will destroy the credibility of our immigration policies and their implementation. In the course of that, I fear, they will destroy our commitment to immigration itself.

If you want to understand why the percentage of Americans who believe immigration has made the United States worse off has nearly doubled in less than three years, just look at the border and read Jordan’s words. She had it all figured out when Joe Biden was still the junior senator from Delaware. 

Had I been asked to respond to the poll, I would have said that immigration makes the United States better off (or at least it should), but given the fiasco Joe Biden has created at the Southwest border, I can understand the plurality of respondents who assert that it has made the country worse off.