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Study shows partisan differences in top priorities for U.S. immigration policy

Study shows partisan differences in top priorities for U.S. immigration policy

  • Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General

A survey released Thursday by the Pew Research Center found that Republicans and Democrats differ over what should be the most important goals of the nation's immigration system.

Of the 7,647 randomly sampled adults, those who identified as Republicans placed greater importance on border security and deportations of immigrants who are living in the country illegally. Those more Democratic leaning expressed prioritizing paths to legal status for those who entered the country illegally, especially for those who came as children.

More than 1.6 million encounters with migrants along the U.S.-Mexico border were reported by the U.S. Border Patrol in 2021 — the highest annual total on record.

While Mexico was the most common origin country for migrants last year, 62% of them came from other nations, the highest annual total for non-Mexican nationals since 2000.

During these encounters, migrants either face expulsion and are immediately expelled to their home country or last country of transit, or apprehension, in which they are detained in the United States, at least temporarily.

Despite the different views in how the government should address the increase in immigration, 73% of Americans said that increasing security along the U.S.-Mexico border to reduce illegal crossings should be a very (44%) or somewhat (29%) important goal of its immigration policy. 

Over 90% of surveyed Republicans and Republican-leaning independents said that border security should be an important goal, while a smaller majority, 59% of Democrats and Democratic leaners said it should be at least somewhat important.

While both parties emphasized a need for security, only 22% of Democrats described it as being a "very" important goal.

Taking in civilian refugees who are fleeing from war and violence in their country, as well as allowing children who came illegally to remain in the U.S. and apply for legal status, are the second biggest priorities reported by most Americans, although from more Democrats than Republicans.

About two-thirds of the public also said they want the immigration system to make it easier for U.S. citizens and legal residents to sponsor family members to immigrate to the country.

Some of the immigration system's most pressing matters for most Americans, however, contradict one another.

While six-in-ten said the government should establish better ways for immigrants currently in the country to stay legally, a similar share of people at 57%, said that deportations of these immigrants should be increased.

But there is a wide partisan gap on the issue of what to do about immigrants who are already living in the U.S. illegally.

Roughly 80% of those in favor of increasing deportations were Republicans, while the same amount of Democrats favored improving ways for them to gain legal status.

The most intense ideological views were expressed by conservative Republicans, who showed strong support for more restrictive immigration goals such as increased border security and increased deportations, and liberal Democrats, who by contrast, are most supportive of establishing paths to legalization for undocumented immigrants.

According to the research center, many of the public's immigration views have remained the same over the past few years, but there have been some notable changes since 2019, most likely due to former President Donald Trump's heightened campaign focus on border control.

Since then there's been a 3% increase in favoring more deportations and a 5% rise in increasing border security.

On the contrary, support of pathways to legal status for immigrants currently in the country illegally decreased by a dramatic 67% over the past three years, especially from conservative Republicans.

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