AUSTIN — Texans oppose a border wall and sanctuary cities and think immigrants are more beneficial than harmful to the nation, according to the annual Texas Lyceum poll released Tuesday.
The poll focused solely on immigration this year to get a better gauge of how Texans feel about the always-controversial subject that has been swept into the forefront of discussion by state and federal lawmakers.
The poll questioned 1,000 Texas adults in English and Spanish and conducted half of the interviews by cellphone and half by landline. The poll was conducted April 3-9 and the overall margin of error is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
Overall, 27 percent of Texans said that immigration or border security is the state’s most important problem — beating out other issues like the economy, political corruption and health care. That was not a surprise, as these subjects regularly rank near the top of public opinion polls in the state.
But the survey also revealed stark differences between the heated rhetoric around immigration and the policies lawmakers want to use to address it.
While 72 percent of Texans surveyed said they were extremely or somewhat concerned about illegal immigration, 61 percent opposed a proposal by President Donald Trump to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. And 62 percent said they don’t want Trump to deport millions of unauthorized immigrants currently in the country.
“Despite the fact that immigration and border security is a perpetual concern, the fact is Texas adults as a whole still see immigration as a good thing,” said Joshua Blank, research director for the Texas Lyceum. “There’s a commitment to these values of America as a place that immigrants come to.”
The Texas Lyceum is a nonpartisan statewide organization focused on identifying young Texas leaders.
The survey found that 62 percent of adults said immigration helps the U.S. more than it hurts, a softening on the issue from last year, when 54 percent answered that way.
The poll also found support for allowing immigrants in the country illegally to become citizens if there were strict conditions attached. On that issue, 90 percent of Texas adults said they either strongly or somewhat supported allowing these immigrants to become citizens after a long waiting period, payment of taxes and a penalty, passage of a criminal background check and learning English.
Roughly equal shares of Democrats and Republicans expressed support for this measure, showing that even in Texas, supporters of the two parties appear to “agree far more over the particulars of immigration reform than current debates might suggest,” the poll’s authors wrote.
On state level issues, Texans were more in favor of restrictive immigration policies. They supported keeping state border security funding at current levels despite Republicans in the White House and Congress who have promised to provide more federal funding for border security.
And they expressed opposition to sanctuary policies in which local law enforcement agencies are prevented from asking about a person’s immigration status or enforcing immigration law. The Legislature is considering a law that would ban these types of policies in the state.
Respondents split strongly along racial and party lines, with 49 percent saying they were opposed to such policies while 45 percent expressed support. Eighty-six percent of Republicans opposed sanctuary cities, while 69 percent of Democrats supported them. And 62 percent of whites opposed these policies while 56 percent of Hispanics supported them.
The poll also found strong support — 72 percent — for requiring businesses to verify a person’s immigration status before hiring and creating stiff penalties for those who hire unauthorized immigrants.
But 61 percent of Texans surveyed said they supported allowing unauthorized immigrants studying in state universities to pay in-state tuition, with 31 percent saying they should pay out-of-state tuition. Those sentiments again followed strong partisan lines, with 77 percent of Democrats favoring in-state tuition and 51 percent of Republicans favoring out-of-state tuition fees. Overall support for in-state tuition, however, had increased from when the poll asked the same question in 2011, when only 52 percent favored it.
Overall, Blank said, the results of the study were not surprising but did show a general softening on immigration enforcement. That was partly a result of the methodology behind the survey, which polled Texas adults rather than registered voters who tend to be more conservative on these issues.
But Blank also said that the less restrictive views found in the poll demonstrated a shift among Texas Hispanics and Democrats.
“When you look at the moderation on some of these items what you tend to see is that Republican attitudes remain fixed,” Blank said. “What changes was Democratic and Hispanic attitudes galvanizing toward a more liberal position on immigration.”
Blank said that distinction was particularly interesting because Hispanics are not universally liberal in the state, but the recent climate and national discussion around immigration may have pushed them toward more liberal positions.
Younger people also had less restrictive views on immigration enforcement. Eighty percent of respondents between 18 and 29 said immigration helps the U.S. more than it hurts, but that percentage went down among older people. Only 46 percent of those 65 and older said immigrants were beneficial to the U.S.