Harvard/Harris Poll Shows Disapproval of Biden Immigration Policies

And Americans don’t even know how bad they really are

By Andrew R. Arthur on June 29, 2021

Harvard’s Center for American Political Studies (CAPS) and polling outfit Harris have released a poll of 2,006 registered voters. It was conducted between June 15 and 17, and included a number of opinions on the president’s immigration policies. To say that those policies aren’t popular would understate how bad respondents deemed them, even though the majority of those respondents likely don’t know how bad they really are.

Here is the good news for Biden: A majority of respondents (53 percent) stated that the country is on the “right track”, which is above 50 percent for the first time since January. While the president’s approval rating dipped 2 points since May, he still enjoys the approval of 59 percent of those polled. And, curiously, 52 percent of respondents approve of Biden’s performance on immigration.

I say “curiously” because while immigration ranked as the third-most important issue to respondents (at 24 percent, trailing the economy and jobs (31 percent) and coronavirus (30 percent)), when asked about the administration’s handling of immigration, the assessments of those polled was bleak.

Eighty-one percent of respondents considered immigration to be a “serious” problem, with 43 percent opining that it was a “very serious” one.

In fact, 55 percent of respondents believe that the president should have left in place former President Trump’s policies making it more difficult for migrants to enter the United States, as opposed to undoing them by executive order (as my colleague, Rob Law, has explained Biden has done).

Particularly notable is the fact that those numbers are so bad even though respondents significantly under-assessed how large the migrant surge at the border has been.

First, here are the facts: In May, Border Patrol apprehended more than 172,000 aliens who had entered illegally at the Southwest border, a 21-year high that has been building since February and that had decreased only slightly from April (when there were more than 173,000 apprehensions).

When polled, however, 71 percent of respondents underestimated monthly apprehensions by more than 70,000: 21 percent said that there had been fewer than 10,000 per month; 31 percent that there were between 10,000 and 50,000, and 19 percent estimated that the actual monthly flow was in the vicinity of 50,000 to 100,000.

Just 7 percent of those polled correctly responded by stating that apprehensions were running at 150,000 to 200,000 per month, with 13 percent stating that the monthly total was 100,000 to 150,000, and 8 percent of hard-core pessimists offering a figure of 200,000 and above.

When told the real number, 64 percent of the polling group called on the Biden administration to “issue new, stricter policies to reduce the flow of people across” that border.

Respondents were, however, clear on the causes of that illegal migration: 68 percent asserted that Biden’s executive orders on immigration are encouraging illegal immigration, as opposed to just 32 percent who stated that those orders discourage it.

Further, 56 percent disagreed with the proposition that climate change, racism, and sexism were the root causes of migration from Central and South America. The response was useful, but It would have been more helpful had Harvard/Harris asked about other purported root causes that have been advanced by the Biden administration, such as “poverty, crime, and corruption”.

There is plainly urgency on the part of the American electorate for new initiatives to address illegal migration. Just over one in four respondents (26 percent) thought that the current immigration system is sufficient to deal with the migrant surge at the border, while 74 percent deemed it a “crisis” that needs to be dealt with immediately.

I personally think that the border has degenerated well beyond “crisis” into a “humanitarian and national-security disaster”, but the pollsters did not ask about that one, either.

The most interesting question, however, was also the best. When asked whether the Biden administration is creating an “open border” or “just trying to enforce immigration laws more humanely”, respondents were evenly split: 50-50.

Not surprisingly, Republicans overwhelmingly believed that Biden is creating an open border (by a 66 percent to 34 percent margin). That said, even 38 percent of Democrats deemed an open border the president’s motivation, as did 45 percent of crucial swing Independent voters.

The Harvard/Harris poll focused almost exclusively on immigration at the border. If it had included interior immigration enforcement, I’m guessing that Biden’s numbers on the topic would have been much lower.

As I explained in my last post, guidance from ICE’s de facto general counsel has continued the administration’s utter evisceration of interior immigration enforcement.

In large part due to policies that Biden has implemented since day one, the agency’s officers — who have the capacity to remove more than 33,000 illegal aliens per month — actually removed fewer than one-tenth that many (3,000) in April — their lowest monthly total ever.

That is not just a decline from removal numbers under the Trump administration (which, as I have explained before, were never as high as his opponents alleged), but a massive drop-off from the Obama-Biden administration, as well.

At its low-water mark in FY 2016, ICE under Obama still averaged more than 5,443 interior (as opposed to border) removals per month. Again, that was the nadir of interior enforcement under the 44th president. In FY 2010 (the first full fiscal year of the Obama administration), by contrast, ICE removed 229,235 aliens from the interior — more than 19,000 per month on average.

Nor is the decline under the Biden administration simply because ICE is now focused on quality over quantity (as the agency has alleged), or that the agency has just stopped deporting aliens who don’t have criminal records.

In FY 2020 — the last full year of the Trump administration — 92 percent of interior removals were of aliens who had criminal convictions or pending criminal charges. Currently, as my colleague Jessica Vaughan has explained, however, Biden’s policies “will prevent the arrest and removal of nearly all of ICE's caseload of criminals — including many aliens who have been convicted of the most serious crimes on the books”.

This issue has been significantly underreported by a press that seems to be, by and large, firmly in Biden’s camp. They are likely hiding it for good reason, because allowing otherwise removable criminal aliens to remain on the street to reoffend doesn’t sell well among safety-conscious voters.

I will note that the Harvard/Harris poll actually appears to be more favorable toward the president than many. For example, a poll conducted by the UK journal The Economist and pollsters YouGov of 1,500 U.S. citizens between June 20 and 22 revealed that just 40 percent of them thought the country was on the “right track”, as opposed to 45 percent who thought it was on the “wrong track”.

In that poll, Biden’s job approval and favorability both stood at just 50 percent, compared to 40 percent disapproval and 43 percent unfavorable. Most importantly from an election standpoint, 55 percent of Independents viewed the president unfavorably, vs. a 39 percent favorability rating.

The president’s border policies are plainly unpopular with a large swath of the electorate, but the administration just seems to be doubling down on them. If people knew how bad Biden’s immigration policies really were — both at the border and in dealing with criminals in the interior — they likely would have been a whole lot worse.