Gallup Polling Shows Americans Souring on Immigration

And the Biden administration is to blame; the president should heed Barbara Jordan’s wisdom — and warnings

By Andrew R. Arthur on July 18, 2023

On July 13, polling outfit Gallup released its annual survey of public attitudes about immigration: whether it should be increased, decreased, or remain the same; whether it is good or bad for the country; and whether it makes aspects of our culture better and specific societal ills worse. The results show Americans are souring on immigration, and although Gallup doesn’t say as much, Joe Biden’s border policies are to blame. He should heed the wisdom — and warnings — of the late Barbara Jordan about the consequences of illegal immigration, but he likely won’t because his fellow Democrats like what he’s doing.

That poll was conducted between June 1 and 22, or about three to five weeks after CDC orders directing the expulsion of illegal entrants, issued under Title 42 of the U.S. Code in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, expired on May 11.

Is Immigration a Good Thing or a Bad Thing for this Country Today? The first topic Gallup examines comes in response to the question: “On the whole, do you think immigration is a good thing or a bad thing for this country today?”

Of the respondents polled, 68 percent stated that immigration is a good thing, while 27 percent opined that it was a bad thing. You can count me among the latter group, but then Gallup wasn’t asking me.

In any event, that is the lowest percentage of respondents who believe immigration is a good thing since June 2014, when just 63 percent of those polled answered that immigration was a good thing, compared to 33 percent who believed it was a bad thing.

By contrast, 70 percent of respondents believed that immigration was a good thing as recently as July 2022, 75 percent in July 2021, and 77 percent (a high in that polling beginning in June 2001) in May 2020. The “immigration is a bad thing” responses during that period: 24 percent in July 2022; 21 percent in June 2021; and 19 percent in May 2020.

There is a clear partisan divide among those who believe that immigration is a “bad thing”. In the most recent poll, it was the response of 43 percent of Republicans and 28 percent of Independents, but just 10 percent of Democrats. Still, half of those in the GOP consider immigration to be a good thing.

I will return to these responses below.

“Should Immigration Be Kept at its Present Level, Increased or Decreased?” The next set of Gallup data provided responses to the question: “In your view, should immigration be kept at its present level, increased or decreased?”

A plurality, 41 percent, stated that immigration should be decreased, 31 percent stated that it should remain at its current level, and 26 percent believed it should be increased.

Again, there is a partisan differential, and I will start with Independents. Among the politically unaligned, 39 percent want to see a decrease in immigration compared to 27 percent who want immigration increased, which Gallup describes as a “net preference for more immigration” of -12.

Among Democrats, 40 percent want to see an increase in immigration, while just 18 percent want it decreased, resulting in a net preference for more immigration of +22.

Then, there are those respondents who affiliate with the GOP. Some 73 percent of Republicans want immigration to be decreased (“matching the prior high from 1995”), compared to just 10 percent who want to see an increase in new immigrants, for a net preference for more immigration of -63 percentage points. You must go back to January 1993 to find a lower net preference on this question among Republicans (-65).

Immigrants Impact on Culture, the Economy, and Societal Issues. Finally, Gallup asked respondents how they “perceive the impact immigrants have on the U.S., asking if they make the situation better or worse in each of seven areas”.

On the plus side of the ledger, a solid majority of respondents — 54 percent — believe that immigrants improve food, music, and the arts in this country, compared to just 14 percent who think immigration makes things worse in these areas. And 32 percent believe that immigrants improve social and moral values (compared to 25 percent who think they make them worse), likely a reflection of the family values and work ethic many perceive among immigrants from the Americas.

The effect that immigrants have on the economy is more of a mixed bag, with 39 percent of respondents asserting that immigration makes the economy better, and 38 percent believing it makes it worse.

It’s undeniably true that immigrants lower the costs of goods and services for Americans on the upper rungs of the economic ladder, but it is also reasonable to conclude that immigrants who have not had the benefit of a good education back home and who have few job skills (which is true of many if not most illegal entrants) compete with the most disadvantaged U.S. workers (both citizens and recent legal immigrants) for employment in entry-level blue-collar positions.

That’s likely why just 18 percent of respondents stated that immigration has improved “job opportunities” for them and members of their families, compared to 26 percent who stated that immigrants have made such job opportunities worse for them and their kin.

Continuing on the minus side, 18 percent stated that immigration has made their tax situation better, compared to 44 percent who said that immigrants made taxes worse. That’s likely a reflection of the massive fiscal strain recently released illegal migrants have imposed on municipal coffers in big cities (most in the Northeast and Midwest) in the past year.

And just 5 percent of those polled believe that immigrants make the nation’s crime problem better, while 47 percent believe they make it worse. In that vein, a measly 3 percent think immigrants improve America’s drug problem, while a majority — 55 percent — asserted that it makes that problem worse.

With respect to those two questions, it’s important to note that our nation’s legal immigration system contains key protections to ensure that alien criminals and drug traffickers aren’t allowed to enter.

Section 212(a)(2) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) bars most aliens with criminal records from receiving immigrant or nonimmigrant visas and from being admitted to the United States. That is especially true for any alien DHS “knows or has reason to believe” is a drug trafficker.

Of course, aliens who have entered the United States illegally bypassed the screening processes in place at U.S. consulates abroad and ports of entry here to impose those admission bars and to ensure that aliens seeking admission are not criminals or drug traffickers.

Consequently, Americans’ perception that immigration is having a deleterious effect on U.S. crime and drug problems is largely due to the Biden administration’s overarching non-detention policies and “catch and release” regime for illegal migrants at the Southwest border.

Last April, a different Gallup poll revealed that Americans are increasingly worried about crime (57 percent of those polled worried “a great deal” about crime and violence, and an additional 23 percent worried “a fair amount”), while an October 2021 poll conducted by the Pew Research Center revealed that an increasing number of respondents want more spending on police in their areas.

The administration is taking the opposite tack at the Southwest border, however, and its policies evidence little if any concern that alien criminals or drug traffickers may seek to exploit overwhelmed Border Patrol agents to enter illegally and bring contraband with them.

This is not to say that most or all of the 2 million-plus illegal aliens who were apprehended at the Southwest border and released into the United States since Joe Biden became president are criminals, or that most or all of the more than 1.5 million aliens who have entered illegally and evaded apprehension at that border (known as “got-aways”) since FY 2021 are criminals or drug smugglers.

But some are, and there’s no real way to know whether or how many of the rest aren’t. Americans know that a lack of border security breeds drugs and criminality, and as the latest Gallup poll reveals, it is poisoning their impression of immigration — both legal and illegal.

“We Cannot Sustain Our National Interest in Legal Immigration”. Which brings me — and not for the first time — to the wisdom and warnings of the late Barbara Jordan, civil-rights icon, first African-American elected to Congress from the South in the 20th century, former president of the Texas state senate, antagonist of Richard Nixon, and (most importantly) chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform under President Clinton.

In her September 1994 testimony before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on International Law, Immigration and Refugees, 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.

Which, as Gallup’s poll reveals, is exactly what’s happening nearly 29 years after Jordan issued that alert.

So, why won’t Biden change course at the Southwest border? Because that same Gallup poll shows that most of the president’s fellow Democrats don’t share their fellow Americans’ concerns about the effects of immigration — plain and simple.

There are plenty who have derided and will deride the concerns of Republicans (and more than a few Independents and a handful of Democrats) about immigration as simple xenophobia. But if that were true (absent a few isolated individuals), why do half of Republicans still believe that immigration is a “good thing” for the Republic? Plus, there’s no way that majorities could recognize the positive benefits that immigrants provide this nation if more than a few GOP voters did not agree.

Republicans are plainly more concerned than other voters about unfettered immigration, but on that issue they’re not the outliers — the president’s fellow Democrats are. There’s no better proof than the fact that the “net preference for more immigration” is +22 among Democrats, but -12 points among Independents.

Immigration is a “good thing”, but it's not an unalloyed good because unlimited immigration carries real fiscal and societal costs. Americans know that and will support continued immigration only if it’s in the national interest and — at a minimum — the administration respects Congress’ immigration limits. That’s not happening under Joe Biden, and not surprisingly Americans are increasingly souring on immigration. That’s a “bad thing”.