LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
There may be no more divisive issue in American life right now than immigration, whether it's the border wall, the travel ban or asylum-seekers arriving at the Southwest border. A new poll on immigration from NPR and the media research firm Ipsos shows just how polarized Americans are about who we should be allowing into the country. NPR's Joel Rose is here to talk about what we learned. Good morning, Joel.
JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Hi, Lulu.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Immigration has been a huge issue for the president. He talks about it all the time. How do people feel about what he's done here in the United States?
ROSE: Well, we asked about many of his policies and proposals. And we found that not one got a majority of support from the thousand people we surveyed. That includes the travel ban, and that includes changing the way legal immigration works by limiting who can get in. But there's definitely a party-line split. Many of his policies are popular with Republicans. And you can see this most clearly when you look at Trump's signature immigration issue, the border wall. More than 3 in 4 Republicans approve, but overall support is only at 42 percent.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's really interesting because we do see this partisan split. But you're saying that issue by issue people have varying opinions. So what about the recent controversy over separating migrant families at the Southwest border to deter immigration? What did you find out about that?
ROSE: Republicans actually are split on that one in our poll. Just a bare majority - about 52 percent - say they're in favor, and the idea has very little support with anyone else. Overall, only 28 percent of respondents say they are in favor of separating families.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And interestingly the poll also asked people about who should get to emigrate to America generally. What did they say?
ROSE: You know, in some cases there's actually pretty widespread agreement about who we should admit. For example, virtually everyone in the poll agrees that immigrants should swear to uphold the Constitution, which is actually required when you take the oath of citizenship, right?
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I did it.
ROSE: Right. That's what I thought. After that, though, the divisions really start to creep in. And to find out more about what people are thinking, I headed downtown to the southern tip of Manhattan.
(SOUNDBITE OF BOAT HORN)
ROSE: This is where tourists line up to catch the boat to visit Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, and see the famous poem that's inscribed on its pedestal - give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, which still evokes the classic image of immigrants arriving in the U.S. looking for a better life for people like Tim Paleo (ph) of Long Island.
TIM PALEO: That's how my great-grandparents came here. They really had nothing, could barely even do the alphabet and had the opportunity to make a name for himself, make a business. And I think that's what it's all about.
ROSE: In our poll, we asked whether U.S. policy should favor rich immigrants or poor immigrants. For most respondents, it doesn't make any difference. What people do want across the board is for immigrants with skills to come here and immigrants who can already speak English. Both Republicans and Democrats rank that as desirable. Chris Jackson is a vice president with Ipsos, which conducted the poll. He joined me in the park near the Statue of Liberty.
CHRIS JACKSON: There is pretty broad support for the idea of encouraging people who sort of have high skill, high education to come to the United States - very broad agreement that those people are very desirable. People who speak English, that seem as a very desirable aspect.
ROSE: Another group that scores well in our poll - Christian immigrants. That's in stark contrast to Muslims and atheists. They ranked among the least desirable immigrants according to the poll along with people who come here illegally for economic reasons. At the very bottom - people who support communism. That can still be grounds for denying us U.S. citizenship.
JACKSON: It's communists and then it is people who have less than a high school education and Muslims. Those are the lowest in the ratings we have.
ROSE: We also asked whether immigrants from different parts of the world should get priority. It turns out respondents to our poll don't distinguish between immigrants from Africa, Latin America and Europe. But we did find some support, particularly among Republicans, for restricting travel from certain countries, especially those that have ties to terrorism. James Law (ph) of New Hampshire is visiting New York with his family. He says President Trump's travel ban is all about protecting national security.
JAMES LAW: We can't just blindly let people in, especially if they're coming from those areas over there where there are, you know, issues with terrorism. Because in the end, it's our country - the United States.
ROSE: We also asked about immigrants seeking asylum in the U.S.. Our poll found that only 46 percent of respondents think the U.S. has a, quote, "moral obligation", unquote, to accept refugees. But support is stronger among Democrats. For Yvonne Hillier (ph), it's a question of basic compassion.
YVONNE HILLIER: If people are being persecuted in their country and their country is unstable because of a war situation or a gang situation, then I think those people should be given a priority to come in and have a chance to at least live a life where their family and children are safe.
ROSE: Hillier is visiting New York with her family from Houston, Texas. She and her wife have adopted three children, all immigrants to the U.S.. This is their oldest daughter, Caitlyn Hillier (ph), who was born in China.
CAITLYN HILLIER: Like, the American dream is coming here way and figuring out what you want to do with your life and having the possibilities to do that. And if that's not - like, if we're not aligning that, then we're literally being hypocrites against the American dream.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So back now in the studio with NPR's Joel Rose. Listening to those people there, it is so interesting that there isn't more support for asylum-seekers and refugees, which historically America has really accepted and been supportive of.
ROSE: Right. I mean, I think again it shows how polarized people really are. I mean, there's wide disagreement in our poll around the motivations of asylum-seekers who are coming to the U.S. Nearly three-quarters of Democrats say that the violence that asylum-seekers say they're fleeing is, quote, "real" while almost two-thirds of Republicans think that asylum-seekers are, quote, "taking unfair advantage of the system", echoing something that the Trump administration says pretty often. That said, we also saw a lot of sympathy for immigrants in specific situations. The majority of respondents, for example, did not like the policy of separating children and parents, and they don't like another Trump administration policy of denying asylum to victims of domestic abuse or gang violence. Only 25 percent of people we polled overall say that they support that.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: NPR's Joel Rose reporting on a new NPR Ipsos poll on attitudes towards immigration. Thank you so much.
ROSE: You're welcome.
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