Immigration: A National and Local Issue

April 02, 2011, 5:00 PM GMT+0

Americans look at immigration as an important issue nationally and want something done about it, although it is critical to a much smaller number. Most Americans worry about the economy, health care, Social Security, education, the budget deficit, and even the environment first. In the most recent Economist/YouGov Poll, most Americans say immigration is a problem in their LOCAL community, too, but it matters much more to some.

Only 4% say immigration is their most important national issue, but twice as many Republicans (8%) and more than twice as many Westerners (9%) choose it. Asked simply to say how important an issue immigration is nationally, and not rating it against other issues, eight in ten Americans describe it as at least somewhat important (nearly half say it is VERY important). Concern is less high when it comes to the impact of immigration on their local areas, but nearly two in three still rate it as at least somewhat important.

Again, concern is highest in the West, where states like Arizona have adopted laws aimed at controlling illegal immigration. Most Americans support such measures. More than two-thirds want to punish employers for hiring illegal aliens, increasing fines and making the hiring a crime. There is majority support for more border fences and even more favor having the National Guard patrol them. 71% would require police to report anyone they suspected of being an illegal immigrant to the federal government, and 52% would favor having them check the legal status of anyone they suspect might be an illegal immigrant.

Here are some policies that have been proposed to deal with illegal immigration. Which do you support?

Support Oppose Not sure

Increasing fines for employers




Making it a crime to hire illegal immigrants




Not allowing illegal immigrants




Building more border fences




Using the National Guard




Requiring police to report




Requiring churches to report




Allowing police to ask anyone




But fewer than half (though more than a third) would favor require churches to report illegal immigrant, and 49% would forbid illegal immigrants from sending their children to public schools.

The perceived problem extends — but at a much reduced level — to LEGAL immigration. 36% want legal immigration reduced. But two out of three would either keep legal immigration at its current level, or even permit an increase. Even in the West, where people are most worried about immigration in general, two-thirds would let it increase or stay at the same level.

And by 46% to 30%, Americans also support a guest worker program, which would let immigrants work in the U.S. for a set period of time, and then return to their home countries.

This is not an issue where Americans see Barack Obama as doing a good job. Only 29% approve of the way he is handling immigration. More than half disapprove.

When it comes to his overall rating, the President still remains mired in the low 40’s. In this week’s poll, only 40% approve, and half disapprove.

Photo source: flickr ( Saopaulo1 )

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