NPR Poll: 2 In 3 Support Legal Status For DREAMers; Majority Oppose Building A Wall

Feb 6, 2018
Originally published on February 6, 2018 9:05 pm

Two-thirds of Americans say people brought to the United States as children and now residing in the country illegally should be granted legal status — and a majority are against building a wall along the border with Mexico, according to a new NPR/Ipsos poll.

Partisan dividing lines were sharp, the survey found, and clearly run throughout the immigration debate, reflecting in everything from policy solutions to attitudes toward immigrants, whether it was if they take jobs from American citizens, commit more crime or if the U.S. has a moral obligation to take in people from all backgrounds, including from less-economically stable countries.

"Since Trump has taken over the GOP, [immigration] has become the fault line — even more than other social issues," said Chris Jackson, vice president for Ipsos and director of the public polling team. "It's the main dividing line between the two parties now."

That divide also showed up in Americans' knowledge of immigration issues. Take our quiz, and see how you stack up — and what others picked:

There is, however, some nuance to views of immigration. There's broad support, regardless of party, for the notions that immigrants are an important part of our American identity (75 percent said so, including 71 percent of Republicans and 83 percent of Democrats) and that cultural diversity makes America a better place to live (74 percent said this, including 68 percent of Republicans and 85 percent of Democrats).

DREAMers, the wall and what do with families

Sixty-five percent of Americans said they favor giving legal status to DREAMers, as a deadline set by President Trump quickly approaches for when temporary status will run out for hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients. That includes 81 percent of Democrats, 51 percent of Republicans and 66 percent of independents. (DACA, or Deferred Actions for Childhood Arrivals, is the executive order signed by former President Obama and rescinded by President Trump.)

Republicans have become far more favorable of decreasing immigration since Trump has come onto the political scene.
Domenico Montanaro / Ipsos poll/trend data provided by General Social Survey, conducted by NORC, or the National Opinion Research Center, at the University of Chicago

One of the elements on the table that Trump wants included in order to grant citizenship to DREAMers is to allocate billions of dollars to build a wall — and fulfill a principal campaign promise. But by a 56-to-38 percent margin, Americans said they oppose a wall, and 60 percent said it "wastes taxpayer money."

The split on support for the wall also happens to mirror Trump's approval rating in many polls, and unsurprisingly, there's Trump's base and everyone else — 68 percent of Republicans want the wall built, while fewer than one-in-five Democrats and one-in-three independents say so.

Trump, congressional Republicans and Democrats have not been able to agree before the March 5 deadline on a deal to protect DACA recipients and the wider universe of DREAMers. The government shut down briefly when Democrats last month would not agree to a short-term spending deal that did not address DACA. Trump has taken to Twitter to accuse Democrats of not wanting a deal:

Trump turned down a bipartisan Senate proposal on DACA, and he put forward one of his own that Democrats have chafed at. In addition to a wall, Trump also wants to end the diversity visa lottery program and limit the ability of those immigrants living in the U.S. to be able to bring in extended family members (what pro-immigration advocates call family reunification and what conservatives call "chain migration.")

Domenico Montanaro / NPR/Ipsos poll

Trump's plan would no longer allow parents of a U.S. citizen to be granted permanent legal status in the United States. Current U.S. law allows spouses, minor children, parents, siblings and their minor children to join them. (Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins are already barred.)

Americans were split on whether to end allowing immigrants to bring their extended families into the U.S. — 46 percent opposed ending the practice, while 45 percent supported ending it. But Americans are sharply divided by party on the question — 63 percent of Democrats oppose it; 64 percent of Republicans are in favor. Independents narrowly side with Republicans on this, 49 to 40 percent.

The poll found broad support, however, for continuing to allow close nuclear families to be granted legal status, especially spouses (87 percent) and minor children (84 percent). Two-thirds, however, also believe parents should be allowed, including 62 percent of Republicans.

Siblings, grandparents and adult children of those immigrants, however, face a less-welcoming American public. Solid majorities of Democrats say all of them are welcome, but Republicans and independents less so. And no group is in favor of granting legal status to cousins or aunts and uncles.

An immigration split emerges in the Trump era

The number of Americans saying they want immigration decreased has risen to its highest levels in at least a decade.

The poll found that roughly 4-in-10 Americans feel that way. That is driven by Republicans — 62 percent of whom say the number of immigrants to America should be decreased. That's a 21-points increase for Republicans from 2016 and 26 points higher than in 2015. (The same question was asked in the General Social Survey conducted by NORC, or the National Opinion Research Center, at the University of Chicago.)

Democrats and Republicans didn't used to be so far apart on this question, actually. At the start of Obama's presidency, their numbers were indistinguishable from each other. During the 2016 campaign and into the Trump presidency, a massive gap has opened up.

Other findings of note

  • 57 percent believe America depends on immigrants to sustain the U.S. economy, including 71 percent of Democrats and 55 percent of independents. Less than half (45 percent) of Republicans, however, feel that way.
  • 52 percent say that when jobs are scarce, employers should prioritize hiring people of this country over immigrants. Almost seven of 10 Republicans said so (68 percent), while about half of independents (49 percent) and about four-in-10 Democrats did.
  • 44 percent say the U.S. should give priority to immigrants who speak English, but a solid majority (58 percent) of Republicans think so.
  • 37 percent, just over a third of people think social policies, such as affirmative action, discriminate unfairly against white people. But a whopping 61 percent of Republicans believe this to be the case.
  • 36 percent of Americans agree that immigrants take jobs away from "real" Americans. Again, however, a majority of Republicans say it's true.
  • 31 percent of Republicans incorrectly believe that immigrants are more likely to commit crimes or be incarcerated compared to U.S.-born citizens. That's more than double Democrats (12 percent) and independents (13 percent).
  • 21 percent of Americans say the U.S. would be stronger if it stopped immigration. Only about a third (32 percent) of Republicans agree, despite other views of immigration and immigrants.
  • 15 percent believe the U.S. should take more immigrants from places like Norway instead of from African countries and Haiti. A little more than one-in-five Republicans agreed. President Trump reportedly used a vulgarity to describe African nations and wondered aloud why the U.S. doesn't take more people from places like Norway than Africa and Haiti during an Oval Office meeting with senators in January.

The poll was conducted from Jan. 31-Feb. 1 with a survey sample of 1,004 adults across the country, chosen randomly from Ipsos's online panel. They were interviewed in English, and the sample includes 370 Democrats, 309 Republicans and 216 independents.

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There's no telling how the debate around DACA recipients is going to shake out, but a new poll has found that Americans are not convinced by the plan put forward by President Trump to protect these immigrants. That's what a new NPR/Ipsos poll has found. DACA, which stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, was the executive order signed by President Obama to give temporary legal status to certain young immigrants here in the country illegally. President Trump rescinded it and said the protections will end March 5 unless Congress figures something out. That will affect hundreds of thousands of people.

To talk more about how Americans view this, we're joined by NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Hey, Domenico.


CHANG: So you've been digging a lot into these numbers, and I just want to start with a very basic question. What do most Americans think should happen with DACA recipients?

MONTANARO: Well, two-thirds of people say that they're in favor of legal status for these DACA recipients or DREAMers. The president here is part of that majority. Now, what he said he wants in exchange for protecting DACA recipients is that border wall, and he's not with the majority in this one. By a 56 to 38 percent margin, actually, Americans said they're against a border wall. And 60 percent, Ailsa, say that it wastes taxpayer money.

CHANG: And I'm guessing those results break down along party lines, right? I mean, the wall was a key part of the president's campaign. Democrats have always been staunchly opposed to the idea of it. What does the poll show?

MONTANARO: How did you guess?


MONTANARO: Three quarters of Democrats are against building a wall along the southern border with Mexico. Six in 10 independents are also against it. But compare that to 68 percent of Republicans. They want one.

CHANG: The president's also proposing changes to current policy that allows immigrants to sponsor family members. How do people polled feel about that?

MONTANARO: Well, significant majorities of Americans across the political divide agree that immigrants should be permitted to bring immediate family members. That's spouses, minor children, even parents. But there's a split on whether there should be restrictions on extended family. When it comes to adult children, that's where things change.

Americans are split on whether they should be allowed to emigrate with their parents, and there's a huge divide based on whether you're a Republican or Democrat. They are mirror images, in fact. Sixty-three percent of Democrats are OK with it. Thirty-six Republicans - 36 percent of Republicans are against it and say no. So by the way, when it comes to cousins, aunts, uncles, they face a much less welcoming American public. Overwhelmingly, Americans think they should not be allowed to seek permanent residence.

CHANG: What does this poll tell us about larger attitudes towards immigrants here in the U.S.?

MONTANARO: Well, first let's start with the good news.

CHANG: Yeah.

MONTANARO: There's broad support generally across the parties for the notions that immigrants are an important part of the American identity and the cultural diversity that makes America a better place to live. Those are the exact words from the poll. But if you dig a little deeper, real differences - that's where they emerge. Let's take hiring for example. Sixty-nine percent of Republicans think when jobs are scarce, priority should be given to native-born Americans while just 42 percent of Democrats feel the same way. And 58 percent of Republicans think priority should be given to immigrants who speak English. Only about a third of Democrats said they feel that way, and independents are split.

But one of the things that really struck me in this survey is there has been a real spike in Republicans believing the number of immigrants coming to America should be decreased. Currently 62 percent of Republicans say that. That, Ailsa, is a 26-point - percentage point increase from 2014. What happened in 2015? President Trump - Donald Trump started running for president. That's when he really emerged on the political scene.

CHANG: And we're talking about legal immigration.


CHANG: All right, that's NPR's Domenico Montanaro. Thanks so much.

MONTANARO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.