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Why are evangelicals so afraid of immigrants?

DACA deadline
People hold signs against U.S. President Donald Trump's proposed end of the DACA program that protects immigrant children from deportation at a protest in New York City, U.S., August 30, 2017. |

According to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, most Americans disapprove of Donald Trump’s immigration policy and will not vote for him in 2020 because of it.  Here is a summary of the report from Greg Sargent at the Post:

The new Post-ABC News poll underscores what a gamble this is for Trump. It finds that overall, the issue is a net negative for him: 44 percent of Americans say Trump’s handling of illegal immigration makes them more likely to oppose his reelection, vs. 31 percent who say it makes them more likely to support him, while 24 percent say it won’t be a factor.

What’s even more interesting, though, is how this breaks down among some of the voter groups who powered the Democratic victory in 2018:

  • Among college-educated whites, 45 percent say Trump’s handling of the issue makes them more likely to oppose his reelection, vs. 34 percent who say the opposite. Among college-educated white women, that’s even more pronounced, at 48 percent to 31 percent.
  • Among suburban voters, this breakdown is 42 percent to 33 percent.
  • Among independents, who also swung substantially toward Democrats in the midterms, that’s 41 percent to 32 percent.
  • Among voters ages 18 to 29, that’s a staggering 55 percent to 22 percent, and among voters ages 30 to 39, it’s 48 percent to 25 percent.

On the flip side, though, the issue works for Trump among the voters in his base:

  • Among rural voters, 45 percent say Trump’s handling of the issue makes them more likely to support his reelection, vs. 29 percent who say it makes them less likely.
  • White voters without a college degree say the same by 43 percent to 34 percent.
  • And get this: Among white evangelical Christians, that breakdown is an overwhelming 63 percent to 16 percent

Why are evangelicals so afraid of immigrants when the majority of the country oppose Trump’s policies?

Here are some reasons:

Many evangelicals get their information from Fox News, a network that exploits America’s immigration problem for ratings. Have undocumented immigrants or refugees (which came into the country legally) committed horrendous crimes? Yes. But they are not representative.  Here is what I wrote in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump:

[During the 2016 campaign] Trump attempted to portray refugees and undocumented immigrants as threats to the American public even though the chance that an American will die at the hands of a refugee terrorist is about one in 3.6. million; the chance of being murdered by an undocumented immigrant is one in 10.9 million per year. One is more likely to die from walking across a railroad track or having one’s clothes spontaneously catch fire. Yet Trump has managed to convince Americans that immigrants are “imminent threats” to their safety.  He rode this wave of fear all the way to the White House, and it continues to serve as the foundation for an immigration policy that revolves around the construction of a massive border wall between the United States and Mexico.

Also, white evangelicals in America continue to believe that America is a Christian nation.  As a result, they find solidarity with their fellow conservative anti-immigrant Americans over brothers and sisters in Christ. Yes, most immigrants coming across the border are Christians–Catholic and Protestants. (Of course many Christian nationalists are conservative evangelicals who believe that Roman Catholics are not true Christians, so perhaps I am overstating my point here). Evangelical American Christian nationalists will talk about spreading the Gospel around the world, but God forbid if their converts who accept Jesus as savior try to come here.

Similarly, it seems like white evangelicals, more than any other group, is anxious about the decline of white America. As I argued in Believe Me, they are nostalgic for a golden age of white Christian America that, depending on how you define “Christian America,” probably never existed in the first place. They turn to people like Donald Trump to restore white Christian America.

Can anyone else offer a logical explanation why evangelicals are so out of line with the rest of the country on these matters?

Originally posted at

John Fea is professor of American history at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania, and the author of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump (Eerdmans, June 2018).

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