WaPo/UMD Poll Shows Strong Support for Restricting Immigration During Pandemic

The president has room for stricter measures

By Andrew R. Arthur on May 5, 2020

Topic Page: Covid-19 and Immigration

  • A poll conducted between April 21 and 26 showed that 65 percent of adults polled supported temporarily blocking nearly all immigration into the United States during the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic.
  • Specifically, 83 percent of Republicans, 49 percent of Democrats, and 67 percent of Independents support such restrictions. The idea is popular even among young adults.
  • That poll supports the idea that the president has room to impose even stricter restrictions on the entry of foreign nationals, including non-immigrant guestworkers, than those included in his April 22 presidential proclamation.

Last week, the Washington Post and the University of Maryland published a poll that showed a large number of Americans support a temporary restriction on "nearly all immigration" into the United States during the ongoing Wuhan coronavirus pandemic. That poll supports the idea that the president has room to impose even stricter restrictions on the entry of foreign nationals, including non-immigrant guestworkers, than he has already taken.

The poll was conducted between April 21 and 26, and included 1,008 adult respondents. They were asked: "Would you support or oppose temporarily blocking nearly all immigration into the United States during the coronavirus outbreak?" The poll showed that 65 percent supported such restrictions, 34 percent were opposed, and 1 percent had no opinion.

Of those polled, 32 percent considered themselves Democrats, 25 percent Republicans, 42 percent Independent, and 1 percent "other".

An April 28 article on that poll in the Washington Post noted that 83 percent of Republicans were in favor of such a restriction, as were 49 percent of Democrats (49 percent of whom were also opposed). In addition, Independents overwhelming supported such action, with 67 percent in support.

Quoting Michael Hanmer, a professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland who co-directed the survey, the Post reported:

"One of the most surprising results is that majorities of 18- to 29-year-olds, who tend to be more open to immigration and have a more global perspective, support the proposal to block immigration. ... One way for people to deal with the reality that so many scientific and policy questions have yet to be answered is to look to concrete solutions."

I will note that the first part of that statement is fact, while the second part is apparently analysis, but it nonetheless makes empirical sense: If we need to "flatten the curve" of the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus with social distancing and stay-at-home orders, limiting the total population (and barring the entry of newcomers, some of whom may have the illness already) is a logical step.

Such restrictions have support from both whites and non-whites, with 67 percent of whites in favor, along with 61 percent of nonwhites. (Among Hispanics, who can be of any race, 69 percent support temporarily halting nearly all immigration.)

The president announced such restrictions in a tweet on April 20:

He subsequently issued the actual presidential proclamation instituting those restrictions on April 22. As I described the proclamation the next day:

Briefly, it bars only "immigrants" (as defined in the INA), with exceptions for: immigrants with green cards who are abroad or nonimmigrant aliens in the United States with pending immigrant adjustment applications; foreign nationals abroad who currently have an immigrant visa or other immigrant travel document (but no green card); healthcare professionals, researchers on the Wuhan coronavirus, and those who are needed to respond to the health and economic consequences of the disease (as well as their immediate relatives); immediate relatives of U.S. citizens; certain orphan adoptees; those coming to advance "important United States law enforcement objectives"; members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their immediate relatives; Iraqi and Afghan translators/interpreters and Iraqis who worked for/on behalf of the U.S. government coming on special immigrant visas; aliens whose entry is in the national interest; and, curiously, "any alien applying for a visa to enter the United States pursuant to the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program".

Many, including my colleagues Mark Krikorian and Dan Cadman, were underwhelmed by the proclamation, to say the least. (My colleague Steven Camarota was more sanguine about it, demonstrating the spectrum of views among those of us at the Center.)

As Krikorian stated: "The measure on its own will have little effect," in large part because it applies only to "immigrants" and not to non-immigrant guestworkers. He explained:

The larger problem with the omission of guestworkers from the temporary pause in immigration is that they will be able to flood in again as soon as the borders reopen. Once businesses get back to work and consular offices start seeing applicants again, the flow of guestworkers would resume just as the millions of Americans will be trying to reboot their lives. Re-absorbing the millions of Americans dislocated by the virus into a labor market very different from the one they departed is going to take years, not months. Halting guestworker programs will be necessary to meet the president's no doubt sincere desire to "put Americans first in line for jobs."

Given the fact that the Washington Post-UMD poll was conducted after the president's tweet and proclamation, and given that the vast majority of Americans likely have not read the proclamation's text or most analyses of it and therefore have no idea exactly what "immigration" it blocked, it would not be surprising if most respondents assumed (erroneously) that the president had already shut down most immigration (that is, the entry of foreign nationals in general) into the United States altogether.

That suggests strong support for a moratorium on most, if not all, immigration to the United States, at least as long as the vast majority of Americans are more-or-less confined to their homes and are very or somewhat worried about becoming infected or seriously ill from the disease (60 percent according to that poll).

The president therefore has an opportunity to, as Krikorian proposes, halt guestworker programs to position American workers (citizens, nationals, and immigrants who have already been admitted) to be "first in line for jobs" when the economy reopens. The administration should take that opportunity in a future executive action — and the sooner the better. As I stated in my April 23 post: "If American workers don't have jobs, they will be voters who want more benefits." That is a no-win position for a Republican president to find himself in come November.