By Andrew Soboeiro
In any discussion of immigration, both sides invariably bring up the public interest. Supporters of stricter immigration laws and deportation claim that high immigration levels harm American citizens by lowering wages and increasing crime. Advocates for immigrants counter that an open immigration policy provides Americans with new economic opportunities while exposing them to enriching cultural experiences. Yet it’s rare to directly ask the public which immigration policies they prefer.
A recent poll from High Point University sought to do just that. Conducted among adults in North Carolina, this poll focused specifically on undocumented immigration. The results have important implications for the future of immigration policy both in North Carolina and throughout the United States.
In mid-November of 2017, High Point scholars questioned 469 North Carolinians, including 379 who identified themselves as registered voters. It asked whether undocumented immigrants should be allowed to stay in the United States if they are:
- Serving in the Military: 83 percent of all respondents said such immigrants should be allowed to stay, while 14 percent said they should not and 3 percent were undecided. Registered voters were marginally more likely to say they should stay, with 85 percent in favor and 13 percent opposed.
- Working & Paying Taxes: 77 percent of respondents thought undocumented immigrants who were working and paying taxes should be permitted to stay, while 20 percent did not.
- Related to US Nationals: 76 percent of respondents believe undocumented immigrants with spouses who are US citizens or legal residents should be allowed to stay. Likewise, 73 percent say immigrants should stay if their children are citizens or legal residents.
- Childhood Arrivals: If an undocumented immigrant came to the United States as a child, 72 percent said they should be permitted to stay.
Besides asking whether particular groups of immigrants should be deported, pollsters inquired as to who should do the deporting. When asked whether local police should aid the Federal government in deporting undocumented immigrants who had not committed additional crimes, 35 percent of respondents said yes, while 62 percent said no. Likewise, 65 percent of respondents said they would not personally report undocumented immigrants to the authorities.
Polling & Policy
Overall, the poll indicates that North Carolinians are willing to welcome many if not most undocumented immigrants into the country. These results are striking given that both nationally and at the state level, authorities are adopting policies that punish and deport such immigrants. Nationally, the Trump Administration has rescinded DACA, an executive order that protected immigrants who arrived in the United States as children. Trump has also stepped up deportation efforts, incarcerating and removing large numbers of immigrants, including many who have worked hard, paid taxes, and committed no additional crimes.
State-level policies also seem out-of-step with these results. The fact that respondents don’t want local police participating in deportations suggests that they support sanctuary cities. Yet North Carolina banned sanctuaries in 2015, and state legislators have introduced a bill that would withhold certain types of funding from localities with sanctuary policies.
Assuming that this poll is accurate, these results suggest that North Carolinians are not happy with current immigration policies, and may be willing to elect more immigrant-friendly officials. This could influence state legislative races in 2018, making it easier for politicians who support immigrant rights to win. To the extent that such politicians tend to belong to the Democratic Party, this could help Democrats regain seats in the General Assembly.
Besides influencing state policies, these views could make a powerful difference in national politics. North Carolina is a critical swing state in both presidential and Senate elections. If Washington perceives that North Carolinian voters favor immigrant rights, the US government is far more likely to enshrine DACA into law, scale back deportation efforts, and make it easier to gain visas, permanent residency, and citizenship.