Introduction and Method Overview
This survey was undertaken on behalf of Negative Population Growth to explore several issues surrounding American attitudes toward illegal immigration and to gauge support for various measures to reduce it.
This report presents the findings of a nationally representative survey of 1,004 American adults (18+) who live in the continental United States. All sample was drawn randomly from an RDD (random digit dialing) list.
Interviewing dates, method and timing
All interviews were conducted by telephone from April 14-16, 2006. Each interview lasted approximately 8 minutes.
All samples are subject to some degree of sampling “error”—that is, statistical results obtained from a sample can be expected to differ somewhat from results that would be obtained if every member of the target population were interviewed. In this report, the maximum margin of error at a 95% confidence level is within +/- 3 percentage points for base sizes of 1,004. Subsample margins of error will be higher.
Completed interviews were weighted by age, sex, income, and region to ensure reliable and accurate representation of the target population.
Percentages not totaling 100%
For tabulation purposes, percentage points are rounded off to the nearest whole number. As a result, percentages in a given table column may total slightly higher or lower than 100%.
In questions that permit multiple responses, columns may total significantly more than 100%, depending on the number of different responses offered by each respondent. Similarly, when only selected responses are shown, percentages may total less than 100%.
Asterisks (*) are used when percentages fall below 0.5%. A dash (-) indicates 0%.
Ideal U.S. Population Size “In the Long Run”
Fewer than half of Americans (33%) believe the U.S. population should exceed its current size “in the long run.” Told that the current U.S. population is approximately 300 million, 32% of respondents agreed that this number is best for the country in the long run, and 25% offered a lower number.
Only one in ten agreed the population should reach 400 million or more, a number some have estimated the country will reach by 2050 if current rates of immigration and fertility hold.
Attitudes Toward Number of Legal Immigrants
Currently, immigration is the driving force behind population growth in the U.S.
Most immigrants live in this country legally and have a visa, citizenship papers, or have gone through other official channels. The U.S. accepts about one million new legal immigrants a year.
Asked what they think is a “desirable” number of legal immigrants per year, most Americans (72%) would prefer immigration be kept below current levels (i.e., they say they would like to see less than one million per year admitted).
In fact, over half (60%) would prefer fewer than 600,000 enter per year.
Opinions vary somewhat by age, with older Americans taking a harder line against legal immigration; in fact, whereas one in four of those age 18 to 24 (25%) would prefer to see at least 1 million immigrants enter per year, only one in ten (11%) of those 65+ have the same view.
Attitudes Toward Illegal Immigration
About 500,000 immigrants come to this country each year illegally, and it is estimated that 10 to 12 million illegal immigrants reside in the U.S. today.
As a measure of their concern about illegal immigration, most Americans approve setting as goals:
- Completely halting illegal immigration (68%) and
- The reduction of the number of illegal immigrants now present in the United States to near zero (55%)
Again, older Americans are particularly likely to agree these are worthy goals, with about twice as many 65+ year-olds than 18-24 year-olds “strongly agreeing” that such goals should be implemented.
Amnesty for Illegal Immigrants?
The Bush administration and some senators are promoting a program that would allow upwards of 10 million illegal immigrants now residing in the U.S. to remain as guest workers for 6 years, with the possibility of then applying for permanent residence.
Asked whether or not they would support such a program, many Americans say they “don’t know” and do not offer an opinion. Of those who do offer an opinion, however, the majority oppose such a program (56%).
Reducing Illegal Immigration
Americans support taking tough measures against illegal immigration, including a mandatory prison sentence and fine, followed by deportation, for anyone here illegally in order to:
- Reduce the current number of illegal immigrants to near zero (72% of those who support this goal; 45% “strongly agree”)
- Halting completely the number of illegal immigrants who enter the country each year (64% of those who support this goal; 39% “strongly agree”).
The majority of Americans also agree that a “practical way” of reducing the number of current illegal immigrants living in the U.S. would be to make penalties for illegal presence here so severe that no illegal immigrants would come here or remain here out of fear of being caught (56% agree, 35% agree “strongly”). Older Americans are especially likely to “strongly agree.”
Catching Illegal Immigrants
Many also agree Congress should pass laws requiring people to go through a verification check of their U.S. citizenship or lawful presence when:
- Applying for a driver’s license (85% agree)
- Enrolling in an institution for post-high school education, such as a technical school or college (81%)
- Opening a bank account (80%)
Seeking medical care at a hospital (61%)
Denial of Automatic Citizenship to Babies Born on American Soil
Moreover, about half (53%) agree that “Congress should act to deny automatic citizenship to babies born here to illegal immigrants.” Again, older Americans are especially likely to “strongly agree.”
Cracking Down on Employers
Americans agree that one way to impede illegal immigration is to crack down on the people who employ them. Majorities agree that the federal government should strictly enforce present laws calling for criminal penalties for employers who, after having been repeatedly fined, continue to knowingly hire illegal immigrants (81% agree; 63% “strongly” agree, particularly older Americans).