The Public Religion Research Institute is out with a survey of, among other items, immigration. In general, the pollsters found:
Americans largely reject the policy whereby families entering the country without permission are treated as criminals and children are separated from their parents. Only 22% of the public expresses support for this policy. More than seven in ten (71%) Americans oppose such a policy that would separate immigrant children from their parents. . . .
Majorities oppose this policy among every significant racial and ethnic group, but there are still substantial differences in their level of opposition. While nearly two-thirds (66%) of white Americans oppose a policy that treats migrant families as criminals and separates families, the overwhelming majority of Hispanic (82%) and black (93%) Americans hold this view.
America’s largest religious communities are generally opposed to a policy that charges immigrants as criminals and separates families. Although white evangelical Protestants have been ardent supporters of President Trump, only 36% favor this policy while a slim majority (51%) are opposed.
Put differently, barely a majority of evangelical Christians oppose snatching kids from their parents.
When it comes to refugees seeking to enter the United States, the results are even more striking. “Americans are also largely opposed to passing a law that would prevent refugees from coming to the U.S. Only about one in three (31%) Americans say they favor such a policy while roughly six in ten (59%) are opposed to it.” However, among all religious groups, white evangelical Protestants are the most favorably disposed to excluding refugees:
With the exception of white evangelical Protestants, most religious groups oppose laws that would prohibit refugees from coming to the U.S. A majority of white mainline Protestants (55%), Catholics (56%), non-white Protestants (63%), and religiously unaffiliated (69%) Americans oppose a law that would prevent refugees from entering the U.S. White evangelical Protestants are divided with roughly as many in support (44%) as opposition (44%).
This suggests that whites who self-identify as evangelicals are not espousing faith-based views, but identifying with the white grievance mentality that President Trump has whipped up. If you have gotten the sense that “values” voters are not so much interested in religious values but in protecting whites’ dominance, you certainly find confirmation in this poll.
On the border wall, the public is overwhelmingly opposed (63 percent oppose/31 percent favor) but among Republicans, 68 percent favor the wall (vs. only 27 percent of independents and 7 percent of Democrats). On which party to trust to handle immigration, 38 percent trust Democrats in Congress, 14 percent the GOP in Congress and 21 percent the Trump administration — or 38 percent for Democrats 35 percent for Trump and his party. Noteworthy is the 27 percent who trust neither or don’t have an opinion.
These numbers confirm that the country as a whole remains welcoming toward immigrants. The big exception, however, is Republicans and white evangelicals, two groups that overlap to a large extent. Trump’s decision to play to his base makes sense if he were running in a GOP primary and if the electorate had a steady supply of white voters. If, however, he hopes to gain a majority or near majority of support, his anti-immigrant policies seem counterproductive; over time as the electorate diversifies, his approach is self-destructive.
In sum, it is understandable that Trump’s harsh immigration policies — and worse, his effort to strip asylum seekers of their rights — have turned off the public as a whole. Most Americans are not Republicans — a fact seemingly lost on the Trump team. Furthermore, we should not be surprised if the current crisis doesn’t alter these numbers all that much. Whether it is trade, “dreamers,” the wall or refugees, Republicans have dug their heels in, certain that non-white immigrants are a threat to them.
Explaining to white evangelical Christians that their anti-immigrant hysteria is not grounded in facts either from a public safety or an economic perspective, frankly, appears to be a waste of time. Non-Republicans who want a humane immigration system. would spend their time much more effectively if they engaged in massive voter registration drives and helped shape a younger, more diverse and more tolerant electorate.