President Joe Biden may face opposition when it comes to immigration reform. Over the weekend, the president told reporters “there must be a pathway to citizenship” for immigrants with a protected status, but he offered no clear route of how to accomplish it.
President Biden’s statements on immigration came after a federal judge declared the nation’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program illegal. The DACA program, which protects those who came to the United States as children, was created during the Obama Administration through executive action, not by Congressional legislation. Since Congress never addressed it, the initiative (and those it protects) will likely have their fate determined by the Courts.
In a recent Economist/YouGov poll, six in ten (59%) had heard about last week’s federal Court decision.
Data indicates that American public likes DACA, though most Republicans oppose the program. This is not much different from opinions expressed soon after the program began. Half of Americans (52%) support granting temporary legal status to "dreamers", which are otherwise law-abiding children and young adults who were brought into the United States at a very young age by parents who are illegal immigrants.
Democrats are especially likely to support the program: three-quarters (74%) support the protection of “dreamers” while 14% do not. Most Republicans oppose the policy (55%) while one-third (32%) are in favor. Independents tend to support it by 49% to 33%. A majority of first generation immigrants support the program (58%), though that drops slightly for second generation (52%) and third generation (51%) Americans.
While DACA remains relatively popular, that is not the case for immigration in general. One-third of Americans (32%) believe that immigration has made the U.S. worse off. This is a position more likely to be taken by Republicans (64%) than Democrats (13%), but even a significant share of children (23%) and grandchildren of immigrants (31%) say immigration has made the country worse.
Those whose ancestors came to the United States even longer ago are divided on the value of immigration: 30% of them say immigration has made the country better, 34% say it has made the country worse.
Immigration matters more to Republicans than Democrats
Immigration is a far more important issue for Republicans than it is for Democrats.
Three in five Republicans (62%) call it a “very important” issue for them, compared with 36% of Democrats who say this. When asked about the most important issue, 15% of Republicans say economy and jobs, but immigration (14%) comes joint-second place along with taxes and spending (14%). In contrast, only 1% of Democrats call immigration their most important issue, putting it thirteenth of the fourteen listed issues.
Immigration problems could spell problems for President Biden. His handling of immigration receives more negative than positive evaluations in the poll: 45% disapprove and 38% approve.
Republicans overwhelmingly disapprove of how Biden is handling the issue (9% approve, 83% disapprove). Most Independents feel the same way (33% vs 51%). Seven in 10 Democrats approve (71%), but 15% do not. On the other hand, immigration reform may be acceptable to many – at least in principle. When the public reads a description of the Democrats’ immigration reform bill which includes protection of the DACA “Dreamers,” nearly half support the bill (47%), including a plurality of Independents (47%) and one in five Republicans (19%).
But the vast majority had heard little (34%) or nothing (58%) about the proposed legislation before they were surveyed.
There are also mixed reactions to proposals to deal with the root causes of large-scale immigration. As many support (39%) as oppose (39%) sending billions of dollars in foreign aid to Central American countries so their citizens might stay at home and not attempt to immigrate to the U.S.
Methodology: The Economist survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 US Adult Citizens interviewed online between July 17 - 20, 2021. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the US Bureau of the Census, as well as 2016 Presidential vote, registration status, geographic region, and news interest. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all US citizens. The margin of error is approximately 2.9% for the overall sample.