White Evangelicals Strongly Support Comprehensive Immigration Reform, Path to Citizenship

[05.20.2010]

Recent polling finds evangelical leaders’ recent support for reform has strong backing in the pews

Full religion, values, and immigration poll report and topline questionnaire available here.

(WASHINGTON, DC) Evangelical leaders’ recent show of support for comprehensive immigration reform has strong backing from white evangelical Americans, according to March 2010 national poll on religion, values, and immigration reform.  The poll was sponsored by the Ford Foundation and conducted by Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), a nonprofit, nonpartisan, independent research organization.

“American evangelicals are strongly in favor of comprehensive immigration reform,” said Dr. Robert P. Jones, CEO of PRRI.  “Pro-reform evangelical leaders have powerful support from people in the pews.  Our survey refutes suggestions by some critics that pro-reform leaders are out of sync with their congregants.”

The PRRI poll shows that while white evangelicals overwhelmingly support a practical approach to reform that includes not only stronger border and workplace enforcement, but also an earned path to citizenship for immigrants now in the country illegally.  When asked to choose between a comprehensive approach to immigration reform that includes an earned path to citizenship over alternative approaches that emphasize enforcement only, evangelicals choose the comprehensive approach by approximately a two-to-one margin (61% vs. 30%).

In fact, nine-in-ten white evangelicals favor an earned path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who are already in the country, with fully two-thirds saying they strongly favor it.   And 83% of white evangelicals – and a nearly identical number (84%) of Americans generally – say that the American economy would benefit if current illegal immigrants became taxpaying citizens.   A majority (56%) of white evangelicals, like most Americans, think the current immigration system is either mostly or completely broken.

Evangelicals are also comfortable with their leaders speaking out on the issue.  White evangelicals say they are very or somewhat comfortable with clergy speaking out about immigration in a local community meeting (78%), in the local media (76%), in adult education classes (74%), in the congregational newsletter or website (58%), and from the pulpit (54%).

Among white evangelicals, this strong support for comprehensive immigration reform coexists with concerns about immigration. For example, evangelicals are more likely than Americans overall to register concerns about the impact of immigrants on the country. A majority (54%) of evangelicals say immigrants are a burden on the country because they take American jobs, housing, and healthcare, compared to 31% who say immigrants strengthen the country because of their hard work and talents.  Americans overall are nearly evenly divided on this question (45% to 43%). It is notable that the number of evangelicals saying immigrants are a burden has dropped 10 percentage points since the question was asked on a Pew Research Center poll in 2006.

“The fact that evangelicals have concerns about the impact of illegal immigration, however, doesn’t mean they don’t support comprehensive reform,” noted Jones.  “They believe the system is broken, that reform should be guided by deeply held values, and that comprehensive reform is the way to fix it.”

Like other religious groups in the country and the general population, evangelicals say four values are very or extremely important as guides for immigration reform policy: enforcing the rule of law and promoting national security (89%), ensuring fairness to taxpayers (86%), protecting the dignity of every person (81%), and keeping families together (79%). White evangelicals are somewhat more likely to say that the biblical value of welcoming the stranger is an important moral guide than other religious groups (65% vs. 53% of the general public).

The full survey report is available at www.publicreligion.org/research/?id=279

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