Family Separation Policy Goes To Overboil

Ken AshfordImmigration and Xenophobia, Polls, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

There is no absence of opinion on the Trump Administration’s “zero-tolerance policy” toward immigrants crossing the Southern border — a policy that includes separating children from their parents indefinitely, and detaining them in less-than-stellar conditions (including a “tent city” popping up in a region where the temperatures are often in the high 90s).  All living former first ladies have written against it. Republicans, for the most part, express displeasure but don’t seem willing to do anything about it, unless it is attached to a comprehensive immigration bill that includes a wall.  Democrats have a standalone bill that would take care of the immediate crisis, arguing (correctly) that you don’t need to overhaul immigration in one fell swoop to fix the immediate issue.  They also point out (correctly) that Trump is using the children as leverage to get what he wants in the immigration bill, as well as sending a message to would-be immigrants.  That, many say, only adds to the abhorrence — using children as political pawns.

White House adviser and ghoul Stephen Miller is taking credit for the policy, saying disingenuously that it is actually “humane” because it stops people from stealing their neighbor’s kids and using them to cross the border in hopes of preferential treatment.  Again, it is BS, as even THAT doesn’t not require family separation.

A heartbreaking audio released by ProPublica released yesterday which records kids crying and pleading for their parents has only fueled the fire.

So where are the people on this?

A new Quinnipiac University poll, released Monday, asked voters, “As you may know, some families seeking asylum from their home country cross the U.S. border illegally and then request asylum. In an attempt to discourage this, the Trump administration has been prosecuting the parents immediately, which means separating parents from their children. Do you support or oppose this policy?” As my colleague Dara Lind notes, this characterizes most of the reason for family separation, though some families seeking asylum legally at ports of entry have also been separated.

Sixty-six percent of voters — including 91 percent of Democrats and 68 percent of independents — told Quinnipiac they opposed the policy. Whites with college degrees were likelier than non-college whites to oppose the policy, and young people of all races were likelier to oppose it than old people. Women were likelier to oppose the policy than men, and black and Hispanic Americans were more likely to oppose it than whites (though a large majority of whites still oppose the policy).

But by a large, 20-point (55 percent to 35 percent) margin, Republicans supported the policy:

A poll conducted by Ipsos exclusively for the Daily Beast found similar results. Ipsos asked respondents if they agreed with this statement: “It is appropriate to separate undocumented immigrant parents from their children when they cross the border in order to discourage others from crossing the border illegally.” The wording is slightly different from the Quinnipiac poll, foregrounding the deterrence rationale the Trump administration has used to defend the policy.

Fifty-five percent of respondents stated they disagreed (42 percent “strongly” disagreed), while 27 percent agreed. As in the Quinnipiac poll, women and nonwhite people were likelier to disagree with the policy; unlike the Quinnipiac poll, differences based on education were minimal, and 18- to 34-year-olds and 35- to 54-year-olds had similar opinions. (People 55 and up were likelier to support the policy.)

And as in the Quinnipiac poll, more Republicans approved of the policy than not (46 percent to 32 percent). Note that unlike the Quinnipiac poll, the Ipsos poll found only a plurality of Republicans supporting family separation, not a majority.

And finally, a CNN poll found the same thing — disapproval by all groups except Republicans:

Chris Warshaw, a political scientist at George Washington University, notes that both the Quinnipiac and Ipsos polling suggests the policy is less popular than any major policy proposal of recent American history, including the extremely unpopular Obamacare repeal bills of last summer:

Nonetheless, the polls find that Trump’s core Republican base supports family separation. But when interpreting party-based polling, one should keep in mind the finding by Emory political scientists Pablo Montagnes, Zachary Peskowitz, and Joshua McCrain that Trump’s unpopularity has coincided with fewer people identifying as Republicans.

That could mean that Republicans who disagree with Trump, and in particular his immigration policies, are likelier to identify as independents rather than Republicans now, which in turn artificially inflates support for Trump among self-identified Republicans. If you polled people who identified as Republicans as of November 2016 and asked what they think of the family separation policy, you might get different results.