Immigration Polling

While President Obama continues to work toward immigration reform (or talk about it, anyway), a disturbing poll released a few days ago shows that this may be a moot point, at least for the time-being.

Quinnipiac University recently conducted a national poll asking about immigration issues and how it might be impacting Obama’s polling numbers (which, admittedly, are less than impressive). From the look of things, the poll seems to be legit (as opposed to the joke of a polling organization that is Rasmussen). It supports a lot of traditional opinions about immigrants and enforcement of immigration laws, but there were definitely a couple of disturbing trends.

First, the usual suspects. According to the Los Angeles Times, the poll had a “strong anti-immigrant tilt, favoring, by 68% to 24%, stricter enforcement of immigration laws rather than integrating illegal immigrants into society.” This is problematic, but by no means does it stand out. Traditionally, Americans have always favored reducing the number of immigrants entering the country. Seriously, there could be one immigrant entering the country per year, and it would still be two too many.

As if that wasn’t a big enough problem, Americans also will overestimate the number of people of color in this country, along with the number of undocumented immigrants. And I’m not just saying they’re off by one or two. Researchers call it “innumeracy,” and it is evident when Whites are asked to calculate the percentage of the population that is Black, Latino, and Asian. The most recent of these studies was conducted in 2005 by Richard Alba, Ruben G. Rumbaut, and Karen Marotz in their article, “A distorted nation: Perceptions of racial/ethnic group sizes and attitudes toward immigrants and other minorities.” They found that a number of Whites actually estimated that, in the United States, Whites were in the minority (already!) and that the rest of the country was 30% Black, 22% Latino, and 16% Asian. For me, the kicker was that they estimated 12% of the country was American Indian (and all I could think about was the Chris Rock routine–after all, around the time of this study American Indians clocked in around .17% (yes, point one seven percent–I did not mess up the decimal point)). And yes, for those of you keeping track, that number of people of color combined with the estimated number of Whites does add up to 100 percent.

Along the same lines, not only do Americans over-estimate the number of immigrants in the country, but they ridiculously over-estimate the number of undocumented immigrants in the country. In fact, in an extensive survey by the PEW Research Center for the People & the Press, respondents stated that most immigrants were in the United States illegally. (For the full report, click here) Seriously. Even though, according to the census only about 30% of foreign-born immigrants are here illegally, Americans (who already believe there are far more immigrants here than there actually are) think that “most” immigrants are here illegally. It still shocks me.

However, by that reasoning, it’s not terribly surprising that the Quinnipiac University survey revealed that there was so much concern about needing to do something about immigration enforcement. If I’m a citizen and I believe crime is so bad that as soon as I walk out the door I’m going to be gunned down by street thugs a la Death Wish 3, then of course when someone asks me about my concerns, I’m going to say that we need more police and less crime. It’s human nature, however flawed the logic might be.

Now, what really threw me off was this result:

“The poll, carried out during the first week in September, found that, by 48% to 45%, an end to the constitutionally guaranteed practice of granting U.S. citizenship to children born of illegal immigrants.”

This absolutely shocked me. Contemporary U.S. immigration policy has almost always worked to keep families intact and to not punish children from their parents’ actions. The fact that so many people might actually be opposed to allowing children of undocumented immigrants to be citizens is just unbelievably devastating.

I could only come up with two possible suggestions as to how these results came to be:

1) Again, I think it all comes back to estimations. I’m wondering how frequently this happens (undocumented immigrants giving birth so their children can be citizens), and I can’t imagine it’s often. After all, that’s a long, dangerous journey to make, especially if someone is pregnant. It could be that this just doesn’t happen as frequently as people envision.

Along the same lines, I wonder if perceived intent has something to do with it. Are these respondents picturing a pregnant Latina pulling herself onto the U.S. side of the Rio Grande and immediately giving birth? Or are they picturing a husband and wife living in the U.S., deciding to have kids because that’s the next step in their relationship?

2) I also wonder about the wording of the question. It reads:

“As you may know, under our constitution and current laws, all children born in the United States are automatically granted citizenship. Do you think we should continue to grant citizenship to all children born in the US or do you think this should be changed so children of illegal immigrants are not automatically granted citizenship?”

I wonder about the phrasing “automatically granted.” I think most people born in the United States believe that they “deserve” to be here, and I think that they somehow feel that they have earned the right to be citizens. Plus, given the cultural stubbornness of the powerful Horatio Alger mythology, I think the idea of someone just being “automatically granted” anything is bound to be challenged.

I’m not saying the poll was conducted incorrectly–I just wonder how much influence these kinds of factors can have.