Immigration remains a hot-button political issue, but a majority of Americans have a favorable view of immigrants, according to surveys by the Pew Research Center.
“Over time we’ve seen public opinion about immigrants become overall more positive,” said D’Vera Cohn, a senior editor with the Pew Research Center. “However, underneath that overall trend, there’s also growing division by political party.”
Cohn will discuss attitudes about immigration and the changing face of immigrants coming to the U.S. as part of the Albuquerque International Association lecture series Sept. 21 at the University of New Mexico Continuing Education Conference Center in Albuquerque.
“A growing percentage of immigrants who are here who are unauthorized immigrants are not people who crossed the border without permission but are people who came here with legal visas and they overstayed,” she said.
Many of those immigrants are from Asia. Much of the political debate about undocumented immigration focuses on enforcement along the southwest border and people crossing illegally from Mexico.
“Maybe it’s something people from New Mexico wouldn’t think about as much because you’re so near the border,” Cohn said.
The focus on the border has led to misperceptions about who is coming to the United States and how they get here. Pew opinion surveys show “many Americans don’t know” whether a majority of immigrants are in the country illegally or not, Cohn said. Three-quarters of all immigrants in the U.S. are legal.
Cohn will discuss historic trends, including the impact of immigration on population growth in recent decades.
“That is, more than half our population growth since mid-60s has been due to new immigrants and their children and grandchildren,” she said.
And as the population in America ages, younger immigrants will be key to economic growth and productivity.
“Our own numbers indicate if the labor force grows, it will be because of immigration,” Cohn said.
That could change if U.S. policy curtails legal immigration and enforcement reduces the number of undocumented workers, she said.
Public opinion about immigrants remains split along political party lines over the question of whether immigrants are a burden or strengthen America, as well as whether the U.S. has a responsibility to accept refugees.
Half of Democrats or those who lean Democrat say yes. Forty-three percent of those surveyed who identify as Republicans or Republican-leaning say the U.S. does not have a responsibility.
Since immigration issues will be part of the political debate on the campaign trail ahead of the November midterm elections, the nonpartisan Pew Research Center is focused on providing facts and information.
“Our mission is to talk about public opinion and public data to help people make their own opinions to sort through some of the complexity and emotions that this very important topic brings up,” Cohn said.