Cut Kid and Add Criminal: How the Immigration Controversy Changes

John Moore/Getty Images

John Moore/Getty Images

Immigration as an issue in the United States has a lot of different sides to it. Any government problem that is enormous, complex, and multifaceted is bound to have separate and discrete problems with very different implications. Two political instances under the same topic heading can draw out different emotional responses from the public. Our immigration system and its many problems takes that to a whole new level. This is perhaps why, when FiveThirtyEight examined public opinion on immigration, it found the public opinion to be divided, especially when poll phrasing was considered.

Divided Public Opinion: Child Immigrants

When the AP/GfK and Public Religion Research Institute asked respondents whether or not children should be treated as refugees and allowed to remain in the U.S. “if it’s not safe to return,” 69 percent acquiesced. Asked more generally about how unaccompanied children should be dealt with, an AP poll in July showed only 46 percent saying children should be treated as refugees, and 52 percent saying they should not be. AP reports that by a 2 to 1 margin Americans dislike the present system we use for dealing with unaccompanied minors — a hearing from a judge before deportation — while 51 percent say they believe children should be sent home without a hearing. Republicans, of course, poll differently than Democrats, and the split there is predictable; 70 percent of Republicans say the unaccompanied minors shouldn’t be treated as refugees while 62 percent of Democrats say the opposite — according to AP/GfK.

What About Public Opinion Sans Children?

If polls regarding children crossing America’s borders are dependent on phrasing, it’s clear children are a particularly difficult part of the equation for respondents to contend with. When you remove that aspect, what you have are the other issues — border control, illegal immigrants living in the United States already, the separation of families, deportation, welfare, taxes, and so on. Gallup shows 41 percent of Americans saying that immigration should be decreased, almost twice as many as the 22 percent who say it should be increased, and a significant lead on the 33 percent who would keep immigration levels flat. Obama’s handling of immigration is fairly conclusively disapproved of, with 65 percent saying they don’t approve of his handling, and one out of every six Gallup respondents say that immigration is the top problem for America.