Pew: Overwhelming Majority Don’t Want More Immigration; Number of Americans Believing Immigrants Burdening Country Rising

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

An overwhelming majority of Americans (70%) do not want an increase in the country’s immigration levels while more Americans are viewing immigrants as burdens on the nation, according to a new Pew Research poll.

Though a slim majority (51%) believe that “immigrants today strengthen the country because of their hard work and talents,” 41% of respondents felt that “immigrants are a burden because they take jobs, housing and health care.” Pew noted that the “share saying that immigrants strengthen the country has declined six percentage points since last year.”

The survey, conducted May 12-18 with a margin of error of +/- 2.5 percentage points, also found that 39% of Americans want immigration levels kept the same while 31% believe the levels should be decreased. Only 24% felt that immigration should increase. A recent Gallup poll found that nearly 60% of Americans were dissatisfied with the country’s immigration levels and only 7% in the Gallup survey wanted more immigration at this time. And a Polling Company poll last year found that a majority of Americans wanted a pause in the country’s immigration levels.

Since Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) started the national conversation about potentially reducing the country’s immigration levels to benefit American workers and increase assimilation, at least two GOP presidential hopefuls have also raised the issue.

While declaring his candidacy, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum mentioned that “over the last twenty years, we’ve brought into this country, legally and illegally, 35 million mostly unskilled workers.” As a consequence, “workers wages and family incomes have flatlined,” Santorum added.

Santorum, as he proudly noted, was the only presidential candidate on either side of the aisle to receive an “A” grade from Numbers USA on immigration.

In a recent op-ed for Breitbart News, Santorum argued that “we should reduce legal immigration from its current level of 1,050,000 immigrants a year to about 750,000 annually.”

“Our legal immigration system is broken, and we are allowing record-high numbers of legal immigrants to come to America. This has an impact on our economy and American workers who are competing with a million new immigrants each year for jobs,” he wrote. “To accomplish this, we must first start with eliminating chain migration (the immigration of adult relatives) and the diversity visa lottery (a random global give-away of American citizenship). These policies are antiquated, unfair, out of step with the policies of other developed countries, and not based on the needs of our nation.”

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker also declared that “the next president and the next congress need to make decisions about a legal immigration system that’s based on, first and foremost, on protecting American workers and American wages.” He added that, “I’ve talked to Senator Sessions and others out there—but it is a fundamentally lost issue by many in elected positions today—is what is this doing for American workers looking for jobs, what is this doing to wages, and we need to have that be at the forefront of our discussion going forward.”

In a Washington Post op-ed in April, Sessions argued that America needs to curb its immigration levels if it wants to see wages increase for the Middle Class and more assimilation that ensures the country remains a melting pot instead of a salad bowl.

“It is not mainstream, but extreme, to continue surging immigration beyond any historical precedent and to do so at a time when almost 1 in 4 Americans age 25 to 54 does not have a job,” Sessions wrote in his op-ed. “What we need now is immigration moderation: slowing the pace of new arrivals so that wages can rise, welfare rolls can shrink and the forces of assimilation can knit us all more closely together.”

He pointed out that real median income increased after Congress reduced immigration levels after the first “great wave” of immigration while the Middle Class started to contracted after Congress lifted immigration caps in the 1960s to usher in the so-called second “great wave” of immigrants:

The first “great wave” of U.S. immigration took place from roughly 1880 to 1930. During this time, according to the Census Bureau, the foreign-born population doubled from about 6.7 million to 14.2 million people. Changes were then made to immigration law to reduce admissions, decreasing the foreign-born population until it fell to about 9.6 million by 1970. Meanwhile, during this low-immigration period, real median compensation for U.S. workers surged, increasing more than 90 percent from 1948 to 1973, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

In the 1960s, Congress lifted immigration caps and ushered in a “second great wave.” The foreign-born population more than quadrupled, to more than 40 million today. This ongoing wave coincides with a period of middle-class contraction. The Pew Research Center reports: “The share of adults who live in middle-income households has eroded over time, from 61% in 1970 to 51% in 2013.” Harvard economist George Borjas has estimated that high immigration from 1980 to 2000 reduced the wages of lower-skilled U.S. workers by 7.4 percent — a stunning drop — with particularly painful reductions for African American workers. Weekly earnings today are lower than they were in 1973.

Sessions noted that “the Census Bureau estimates that another 14 million immigrants will come to the United States between now and 2025” without immigration curbs, which means that the “foreign-born is on track to rapidly eclipse any previous historical peak and to continue rising.”

“Imagine the pressure this will put on wages, as well as schools, hospitals and many other community resources,” he wrote.

The United States has the most generous immigration policy in the world. And as Sessions noted, “each year, the United States adds another million mostly low-wage permanent legal immigrants who can work, draw benefits and become voting citizens.”

And since “legal immigration is the primary source of low-wage immigration into the United States,” current laws, which Sessions noted “can be adjusted at any time” as it was after the first great wave, are allowing “millions of low-wage foreign workers” to be “legally made available to substitute for higher-paid Americans” at a time when automation and a slumping economy are making it tougher for Americans to move up the economic ladder.

Financial and political elites, though, benefit from more immigration–often at the expense of working-class Americans. And that is why immigration is the issue that represents the greatest divide between Main Street and the elites in Washington and on Wall Street. As Sessions pointed out, “high immigration rates help the financial elite (and the political elite who receive their contributions) by keeping wages down and profits up.

Because the financial and political elites at minimum want to preserve the status quo while pushing more more increases in immigration levels, they have an incentive to silence and intimidate “good and decent Americans into avoiding honest discussion of how uncontrolled immigration impacts their lives” even “in the face of public desire for immigration reductions,” Sessions wrote.

But the Alabama Senator noted in April that the “dam is breaking” and predicted that the “enforced silence on this critical issue will end” because “the elite consensus is crumbling.”


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