A new national survey by Public Religion Research Institute finds broad support across religious groups for a comprehensive approach to immigration reform and strong approval for clergy speaking out on the issue. It also shows that Americans in different religious traditions share to a remarkable extent strong support for a set of values that should guide approaches to immigration reform.
Among the top findings:
Perceptions of the Immigration System
- Nearly half (47%) of Americans say the issue of immigration is very or extremely important to them.
- A majority (56%) of Americans say the immigration system is completely or mostly broken. Only 7% say the system is generally working, and about one-third (34%) say the system is working but with some major problems.
- Six-in-ten Americans believe that it is somewhat (43%) or very difficult (17%) for immigrants to come to the U.S. legally today. White mainline Protestants and Catholics are significantly more likely than white evangelicals to say the legal immigration process is difficult (65% and 64% to 51% respectively).
- More than two-thirds of the public say the inability of the immigration system to deal with illegal immigrants residing in the U.S. and the inability to properly secure the border are very serious or extremely serious problems (68% and 67% respectively).
- More than 6-in-10 Americans (62%) also say it is a very or extremely serious problem that the immigration system allows dishonest employers to undercut American jobs by hiring illegal immigrants.
Values and Immigration Reform
Americans across the religious landscape largely agree on a clear set of values that should guide immigration reform policy.
- At least 8-in-10 Americans rated four values as very or extremely important guides to immigration reform: enforcing the rule of law and promoting national security (88%), ensuring fairness to taxpayers (84%), protecting the dignity of every person (82%), and keeping families together (80%). There are few significant differences among religious groups; for example, white evangelical Protestants are just as likely as white Mainline Protestants, Catholics, and the unaffiliated say protecting the dignity of every person is a very or extremely important value.
- A strong majority (71%) also say following the Golden Rule—“providing immigrants the same opportunity that I would want if my family were immigrating to the U.S.”—is a very or extremely important value.
- There is a significant partisan values gap, particularly with regard to support for cultural-religious values and immigration policy.
- There is general partisan agreement about pragmatic-legal values as guides to immigration reform. More than 8-in-10 Americans across the political spectrum rate the values of enforcing the rule of law/promoting national security and ensuring fairness to taxpayers as extremely or very important, with Republicans rating these slightly higher than Democrats.
- However, by double-digit margins, Democrats are more likely than Republicans to rate cultural-religious values as important for immigration reform:
- For Democrats, the top two most important values that should guide immigration reform are protecting the dignity of every person and keeping families together. Democrats rate these values significantly higher than Republicans (88% vs. 74%, and 88% vs. 71% extremely/very important respectively).
- Democrats are also significantly more likely than Republicans to rate religious values such as following the Golden Rule and welcoming the stranger as very or extremely important for immigration reform (75% vs. 65%, and 60% vs. 45% respectively).
- Democrats are significantly more likely than Republicans to rate America’s cultural heritage as a nation of immigrants as very or extremely important for immigration reform (60% vs. 44%).
Comprehensive Immigration Reform vs. Alternatives
Americans across the religious and political spectrum support an earned path to citizenship, one of the key components of comprehensive immigration reform.
- Nearly 9-in-10 (86%) Americans favor (6-in-10 strongly favor) a policy that includes one of the key provisions of comprehensive immigration reform—that illegal immigrants be required to register with the government, work, pay taxes, and learn English before having the opportunity to apply for citizenship.
- Support remains strong across political party lines and all religious traditions. Religiously affiliated Americans are more likely to strongly favor reform than those who are unaffiliated.
- When asked to choose between a description of comprehensive immigration reform and typical opposing arguments, Americans still prefer a comprehensive approach by a margin of approximately 2-to-1.
- When choosing between a description of comprehensive reform and an argument that illegal immigrants should not be rewarded with amnesty or taxpayer-funded social services, 63% of the general public—including strong majorities of all major religious groups—choose comprehensive reform with an earned path to citizenship, compared to 31% who embrace the opposing position, a 32-point margin.
- When the description of comprehensive reform includes language emphasizing that it reflects a commitment to the dignity of every person—by giving everyone “an opportunity to be responsible, contribute their fair share, and become full members of society”—fully two-thirds (66%) of Americans and all major religious groups choose that option, compared to 28% who embrace the opposing position, a 38-point margin.
Other findings on immigration policy:
- More than 8-in-10 (84%) Americans agree that the American economy would benefit if illegal immigrants became tax-paying citizens.
- More than three-quarters (76%) of Americans agree that, given the opportunity, illegal immigrants would work hard to earn a chance at citizenship.
- A solid majority (56%) of the public oppose efforts to deport illegal immigrants back to their home countries.
Immigration Reform, Congregations, and Clergy
Americans who attend religious services regularly (at least once or twice per month) are generally comfortable with their clergy leaders talking about the issue of immigration in a variety of settings, although relatively few report hearing about the issue from religious leaders.
- Roughly 1-in-4 (24%) Americans who attend religious services regularly report hearing their clergy leader speak about immigration at least occasionally.
- A majority of regular religious service attenders say they would be very (25%) or somewhat (29%) comfortable with their clergy speaking about immigration from the pulpit, and 6-in-10 say they would be very or somewhat comfortable with clergy discussing the issue in their congregation’s newsletter or website.
- Larger majorities of regular religious service attenders would be comfortable with clergy talking about the issue in an adult education session (74%), at a local community meeting (77%), or in the local media (75%).
*The nationwide telephone survey of 1,201 Americans (n=1,047 voters), along with two state surveys of Ohio (n=402) and Arkansas (n=402) residents, was conducted March 5–11, 2010. The study was funded by the Ford Foundation.