Poll shows growing disconnect over Trump's hard-line immigration policies

Poll shows growing disconnect over Trump’s hard-line immigration policies

Originally Published in USA Today

Alan Gomez - August 12, 2020

Americans across the political spectrum support the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and temporary restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but the nation remains divided when it comes to immigration enforcement, including President Donald Trump's push to expand the southern border wall, according to a national survey released Thursday.

The Public Agenda/USA TODAY/Ipsos poll also highlights a growing disconnect between Trump's hard-line immigration policies and the priorities of Republicans, who mostly support many of the immigration policies the president has tried to dismantle.

As the coronavirus continues to spread throughout the U.S., a large majority of Republicans (81%), a plurality of Democrats (49%) and a majority of independents (62%) said the U.S. government has done right by temporarily enacting immigration restrictionsin an effort to slow the spread of the pandemic. The national survey was conducted in May, after the president issued travel restrictions against China, Europe, Mexico and Canada.

James Hollifield, a professor of political science and director of the Tower Center at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said the broad support for closing the borders after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, show how Americans are willing to close ranks during tumultuous times.

"When you have these moments of national crisis, people suspend some of their skepticism about closing the borders," he said. "They're willing to do that."

Dulce Garcia, right, carries a cup of coffee as she crosses the border from Mexicali, Mexico, to Calexico, Calif., on July 22, 2020. Like many in Mexicali, Garcia lives in Mexico but works in Calexico. "Everybody's scared of the pandemic but we have to cross," Garcia said. "We have to survive."

In recent months, Customs and Border Protection has used emergency powers to turn back more than 100,000 migrants along the southern border, the State Department has suspended regular visa services at embassies and consulates around the world, and Trump signed an executive order suspending temporary visas for foreign guest workers.

The poll was conducted before The New York Times reported this week that the Trump administration is considering banning U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents from reentering the U.S. if they show symptoms of COVID-19. Hollifield said that would make the U.S. the only country in the world to take that step, and Trump would risk alienating many of his supporters if he follows through.

"If you go that far, you really are attacking fundamental rights of American citizens," he said. "And once people start seeing how their rights are going to be affected, not just some asylum seeker at the border, I think you’ll start seeing a lot of people get really nervous about that."

The poll echoed longstanding support among Republicans, Democrats and independents for certain aspects of immigration policy. All groups supported the general principle of securing the border, the value of immigrants who are doctors, engineers and scientists, and the idea that the U.S. government should humanely treat all immigrants who cross the border.

The poll also echoed longstanding divisions on other aspects of immigration policy. Republicans generally favor the expansion of the southern border wall, while Democrats oppose it. A majority of Republicans say immigrants are a "drain" on government resources and take away jobs from U.S. citizens, while Democrats disagree with both claims. And more Democrats than Republicans support immigrants who work in low-wage jobs.

The poll revealed a disconnect between Trump's harshest immigration policies and the Republican voters who are crucial to his reelection in November.

Trump has tried to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that was created by President Barack Obama to protect undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children. The Supreme Court shot down the administration's attempt, but Trump said he will take another swing at ending the program. Yet 69% of Republicans in the poll said they not only support DACA, but they also support a path to citizenship for DACA recipients.

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