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White Evangelicals most likely to oppose pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants: poll

Immigration, border
Members of a caravan of Central Americans who spent weeks traveling across Mexico walk from Mexico to the U.S. side of the border on April 29, 2018, in Tijuana, Baja California Norte, Mexico. |

White Evangelical Protestants are the only major religious group in the United States in which a majority are opposed to a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, according to a survey by the Public Religion Research Institute.

PRRI released the results of a survey examining Americans’ attitudes on immigration policy on Thursday. The survey, conducted between Sept. 16–29, 2021, asked 2,508 adults who are part of Ipsos’ Knowledge Panel about their “support for policies related to undocumented immigrants living in the U.S."

While a majority of respondents supported pathways to citizenship for illegal immigrants (62%) and believe that immigrants strengthen American society (56%), only 44% viewed immigration as a critical issue.

The results revealed that “with the exception of white Evangelical Protestants, majorities of all religious groups support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.”

While just 47% of white Evangelicals supported a pathway to citizenship, majorities of all other religious groups polled expressed support for the policy. Support was highest among black Protestants (75%), followed by Hispanic Catholics (70%), religiously unaffiliated Americans (69%), other Christians (65%), white mainline Protestants (59%), non-Christians (55%) and white Catholics (54%). 

The survey measured approval of a pathway to citizenship at 66% among white mainline Protestants who attend church services at least once a week, and at 57% among white Catholics who attend church services weekly or more. On the other hand, white Evangelicals who attended services at least once a week were less likely than the complete sample of white Evangelicals to indicate support for a pathway to citizenship, with support measured at 45% among the former group and 47% among the latter. 

Additionally, white Evangelical Protestants were much less likely than members of other religious groups to believe that “immigrants strengthen American society.” Thirty-five percent of white Evangelicals agreed with the aforementioned statement. 

The only other religious groups where less than half of respondents believed that “the growing number of newcomers from other countries strengthens American society” were white Catholics and white Protestants. Among both groups, 46% of those surveyed pointed to immigrants as a source of societal strength. 

Majorities of nearly all other religious groups saw immigrants as a benefit to American society, with overwhelming majorities of the religiously unaffiliated (74%), black Protestants (69%), non-Christians (65%) and Hispanic Catholics (61%) subscribing to that belief. 

In addition to 53% of Evangelicals, most white Christians viewed immigration as a critical issue. Fifty-seven percent of white Catholics were more likely than their Protestant counterparts (54%) to rate the issue as a matter of high importance. Less than one-third of religiously unaffiliated Americans (32%) believed immigration constitutes an important issue.

The survey also asked respondents who view immigration as a critical issue how they felt about “allowing undocumented immigrants to become citizens provided they meet certain requirements” and “allowing immigrants brought illegally to the U.S. as children to gain legal resident status.” 

Among all subgroups surveyed, support for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allows those who were children when they were brought to the U.S. illegally to remain in the country, was higher than support for providing a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants in general.

It's estimated that between 11 million to 14 million people living in the U.S. either entered the country illegally or have overstayed their visas. Among those numbers are some 700,000 temporary DACA recipients, those who were younger than age 31 when it was enacted in 2012.

The Americans who rate immigration as an important matter were broken down into four subgroups: White Evangelical Protestants, Democrats, Republicans and Independents. Thirty-four percent of white Evangelicals expressed support for letting illegal immigrants become citizens if they met certain requirements, and 41% of white Evangelicals indicated approval of the DACA program. 

The latest PRRI survey compares the responses of demographic subgroups to questions about immigration in the 2021 questionnaire to the responses they gave in previous surveys. The share of black Protestants who supported a pathway to citizenship rose from 70% to 75% from 2013 to 2021. 

In the same time period, support for a pathway to citizenship dropped from 74% to 70% among Hispanic Catholics, 61% to 59% among white mainline Protestants, 68% to 55% among non-Christians, 62% to 54% among white Catholics, and 56% to 47% among white Evangelicals. By contrast, support increased from 64% to 69% among the religiously unaffiliated and from 63% to 65% among other Christians.

While most religious subgroups saw an increase in the share of respondents who saw immigrants as a strengthening force in American society, the percentage of white Evangelical respondents who ascribed to that belief decreased from 38% in 2011 to 35% in 2021. The share of white mainline Protestants who reported seeing immigrants as a source of strength recorded a similar drop in that same time period (48% to 46%), while white Catholics saw a much more significant decrease (56% to 46%.)

PRRI attempted to single out the factors that led respondents to be more supportive of a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants. The study concluded that Democrats were twice as likely as Republicans to support a path to citizenship, while Independents were 1.5 times more likely than Republicans to do so. 

Those who believed “immigrants today strengthen our country because of their hard work and talents” were 2.8 times more likely than respondents who believed “immigrants today are a burden on our country because they take our jobs, housing, and health care” to support a pathway to citizenship. Respondents who believed “immigrants strengthen American society” were 2.3 times more likely than those who think “immigrants threaten traditional customs and values” to support a pathway to citizenship. 

The release of the PRRI survey comes as the U.S. continues to grapple with a surge in illegal immigration across its southwest border with Mexico. U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported 1,734,686 encounters with migrants at the southwest border in fiscal year 2021, more than four times the number recorded in fiscal year 2020. Three months into fiscal year 2022, CBP recorded 518,360 border crossings. 

Critics of the Biden administration attribute the increase in border crossings to the reversal of Trump-era policies designed to curb illegal immigration, specifically the Migrant Protection Protocols requiring migrants seeking asylum to remain in Mexico while their cases are adjudicated and Title 42, which allowed immigration officials to turn back most migrants because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Biden administration restarted the Migrant Protection Protocols late last year in response to a court order. 

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: ryan.foley@christianpost.com

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