As Congress considers a shutdown, here’s what Americans think of U.S. immigration policies

Jamie BallardData Journalist
January 12, 2024, 3:58 PM GMT+0

Republicans and Democrats in Congress are struggling to come to a deal that would both provide emergency U.S. aid to Ukraine, do the same with Israel, and stem the flow of migrants coming into the country via the U.S.-Mexico border. If a deal is not reached by January 19, there is a possibility of a government shutdown, which several Republican members of Congress have already indicated they would support.

A recent YouGov poll asked Americans for their thoughts on U.S. immigration policy, the U.S.-Mexico border wall, and how the federal government should respond to people seeking asylum in the U.S. Among the findings: Most Americans support the construction of a border wall and many believe that migrants seek asylum in the U.S. should not be allowed entry until their case is resolved.

If Congress remains at a stalemate on the topic of immigration, what should President Joe Biden do? Among Americans, 28% say he should use executive authority to the greatest extent possible to resolve problems in the immigration system. Democrats (41%) are more likely than Republicans (23%) or Independents (21%) to say this.

One-quarter of Americans think he should use executive authority only to a limited extent when necessary to solve immediate problems, a view shared by 38% of Democrats and 18% of Republicans. And 21% of Americans — including 8% of Democrats and 34% of Republicans — think Biden should take no executive actions and defer to Congress.

Much of the current discussion hinges on the idea of a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Mike Johnson, the Republican House speaker, has called on the Democratic-led Senate to approve H.R. 2, a bill passed by the House last May. Among other changes to immigration policy, it mandates construction of at least 900 miles of border wall.

More Americans support than oppose building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border to try to stop illegal immigration: 53% favor this and 31% oppose it.

Among Republicans, 85% are in favor of constructing a border wall; fewer than half of Independents (43%) and Democrats (32%) agree.

Support for the construction of a border wall has risen slightly since July 2022, when 47% of Americans were in favor of the idea. Democratic support has driven the increase: 20% supported the wall in July 2022 and 32% support it now.

Many migrants attempting to enter the U.S. at the Mexican border say they are seeking asylum and fleeing persecution in their home countries. It can take several months or years to determine whether they are eligible for asylum. Among Americans, 44% think that asylum seekers in cases like these should be refused entry to the U.S. and should remain in Mexico until their case is resolved. One-quarter (25%) think asylum seekers should be allowed to live in the U.S. until their case is resolved; 14% think they should be detained at a facility in the U.S. until their case is resolved.

There are partisan differences. Democrats (43%) are more likely than Independents (24%) and Republicans (8%) to say asylum seekers at the southern border should be allowed to live in the U.S. while their case is resolved.

Views on how the government should handle asylum seekers may be influenced by the nearly universal belief that not all asylum seekers are truly fleeing persecution in their home countries. In order to be eligible for asylum, people must establish that they have been persecuted or have a well-founded fear of persecution if they return to their country, on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

Among Americans, just 5% say almost all migrants seeking asylum are actually fleeing persecution — or the threat of it. Another 17% believe most of them are, 15% believe about half of them are, and 27% think some are. One in five (19%) think hardly any of the people seeking asylum are actually fleeing persecution — or the threat of it — in their home countries.

Of the people who have sought asylum in the U.S. in recent years, 39% of Americans believe that at least half are eventually granted asylum status, meaning they are protected from being removed to their home country and can eventually apply for U.S. citizenship. Around one-quarter (23%) think some asylum seekers are eventually granted status, and 9% think hardly any applicants receive asylum status. Republicans are particularly likely to believe that almost all (15%) or most (21%) asylum seekers are eventually granted status.

How many people are actually granted asylum status in the U.S.? According to data from the Executive Office for Immigration Review, 14% of asylum seekers were granted asylum in 2022 — the most recent year for which all data is available. In 2021, 16% of applicants were granted asylum.

Additional data from the Executive Office for Immigration Review provides insight on how many asylum seekers of various nationalities are granted status. YouGov’s survey asked Americans if they thought refugees from a variety of countries should be accepted into the U.S.

Half (51%) of Americans think the U.S. should accept Ukrainian refugees fleeing violence or persecution. Democrats (75%) are about twice as likely as Independents (40%) or Republicans (37%) to say this.

Fewer Americans think that the U.S. should welcome refugees fleeing violence or persecution from Cuba (41%), Haiti (36%), Venezuela (35%), Palestine (34%), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (32%), Guatemala (32%) or Nicaragua (31%).

The survey also asked Americans more general questions about their views on immigration. One-third (32%) of Americans say immigration makes the U.S. better while 36% say it makes the country worse. One in five (20%) say it doesn’t make much difference.

There are partisan differences: 55% of Democrats say immigration makes the country better; fewer Independents (25%) and Republicans (14%) say the same.

The share of Americans who believe immigration makes the U.S. better has fallen 10 percentage points since July 2022, when 42% held this opinion.

Half (49%) of Americans believe illegal immigration is a very serious problem. Among Republicans, 77% say this; 44% of Independents and 29% of Democrats agree.

Americans are split about changing the U.S. approach to legal immigration. One-third (31%) think the federal government should decrease legal immigration; 27% think it should increase legal immigration. A similar share (30%) think the federal government should not change the current level of legal immigration.

Republicans (48%) are about twice as likely as Independents (24%) and Democrats (23%) to say the government should decrease legal immigration.

Do Americans trust Republicans or Democrats more when it comes to immigration? Opinions are mixed: 31% trust the Republican Party more, 27% trust the Democratic Party more, and 27% trust neither party. Just a few (5%) say they trust them both equally. As one might expect, Republicans are particularly likely to trust their own party more (75%), as is the case for Democrats (69% trust the Democratic Party more on the issue).

— Taylor Orth and Carl Bialik contributed to this article


See the results for this YouGov poll.

Methodology: The YouGov poll was conducted online on December 7 - 12, 2023 among 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel using sample matching. A random sample (stratified by gender, age, race, education, geographic region, and voter registration) was selected from the 2019 American Community Survey. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, education, 2020 election turnout and presidential vote, baseline party identification, and current voter registration status. Demographic weighting targets come from the 2019 American Community Survey. Baseline party identification is the respondent’s most recent answer given prior to November 1, 2022, and is weighted to the estimated distribution at that time (33% Democratic, 31% Republican). The margin of error for the overall sample is approximately 4%.

Image: Getty (Mario Tama)