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More than half of Americans say there’s an ‘invasion’ on the southern border, according to a new NPR/Ipsos pollpart of a broader drop in support for immigrants in general.
The poll also found that many Americans hold a variety of misconceptions about immigrants – vastly exaggerating their role in smuggling illegal drugs into the United States and the likelihood of them using public benefits, for example – such as false and misleading claims about immigration gain. traction.
Republicans are more likely to have a negative view of immigrants. But the poll found they are not alone in adopting increasingly extreme rhetoric around immigration.
The ‘invasion’ rhetoric resonates with many Americans
The poll found that a majority of Americans – including three-quarters of Republicans – say it is either somewhat or completely true that the United States is “being invaded” on the southern border.
The U.S. Border Patrol has apprehended migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border more than 1.8 million times since October, setting an annual record for arrests two months from the end of the fiscal year.
Nearly half of those migrants were quickly deported under the public health order known as Title 42 that has been in place since the start of the pandemic. But hundreds of thousands more have been allowed to seek asylum and other protections in the United States.
Republican leaders are increasingly describing the situation as an “invasion.” Immigrant advocates say the word has a long history in white nationalist circles and warn that such extreme rhetoric could provoke more violence against immigrants.
Still, the poll shows the word “invasion” has been embraced by a wide range of Americans to describe what’s happening at the border.
“We’re not selecting enough people to make it safe for the rest of the country,” poll respondent Michael Cisternino, a Republican from Nevada, said in a follow-up interview.
“We the people of the United States really have no control over who comes in, where they go or what they’re going to do when they get there – if they’re criminals, if they’re not criminals said Cisternino.
Studies have consistently shown that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes or be incarcerated than native Americans. In the NPR/Ipsos poll, a plurality of Republicans incorrectly answered that immigrants are more likely to commit crimes.
Republicans were also more likely to approve of rhetoric that echoes the so-called “replacement theory” — the false conspiracy theory that Jews or elites deliberately replace white Americans with immigrants and people of color. .
More than a third of all poll respondents agree that “Americans born in the country are being systematically replaced by immigrants” – including more than half of Republicans. Nearly half of all Americans say “Democrats are working to open our borders to more immigrants,” with more than 70% of Republicans agreeing.
The issue of immigration is far more pressing for Republicans than for Democrats. About a quarter of GOP respondents say immigration is one of the “most concerning” issues facing the country, while just 4% of Democrats rank immigration their top concern.
“A lot of immigrants come here for safety, and a lot of them come here for a chance” at a better life, said poll respondent Neel-Gopal Sharma, a Democrat from North Carolina, in a follow-up interview.
Sharma’s parents emigrated from India to Canada, where he was born, and later moved to the United States. Sharma thinks it’s becoming increasingly acceptable to blame immigrants and other people who seem different for the country’s problems.
“There’s this kind of xenophobic rhetoric being thrown around,” he said. “So I’m not surprised by that.”
Misleading claims about immigrants are gaining traction, especially around fentanyl
The poll found that large numbers of Americans, including a large majority of Republicans, blame migrants for an increase in fentanyl deaths – even though there is no evidence linking them directly to the problem.
It is true that fentanyl overdose deaths have increased in recent years and much of the US supply of fentanyl is smuggled across the border.
But experts say the vast majority of fentanyl and other illegal drugs are smuggled through official ports of entry, hidden in large trucks and passenger vehicles, while a relatively small amount is smuggled by cartels across the border between these ports.
Virtually none are smuggled by the migrants themselves, says Victor Manjarrez, Jr., a former Border Patrol sector chief who is now a professor at the University of Texas at El Paso.
“The likelihood that they’re carrying some kind of illicit narcotic is probably close to zero,” Manjarrez said. “The vast majority of this fentanyl goes through a port of entry.”
Yet six in 10 Republicans in the poll incorrectly said “most” of the fentanyl entering the United States is smuggled by migrants.
Similarly, more than half of Republicans say immigrants are “more likely” to use public assistance benefits than the native-born population, even though many immigrants are barred from using public assistance. most federal benefit programs. Less than a quarter of Republicans correctly identified this statement as false.
“These statements of false, misleading or incomplete information are definitely gaining popularity among Republicans,” said Mallory Newall, vice president of Ipsos, which conducted the poll.
But partisanship is not the only factor.
“What we see here in our poll is that your willingness to believe these misleading or incomplete statements about immigration depends not only on your party affiliation, but also where you get your news from,” Newall said.
Republicans who get their news from Fox News and conservative media were more likely to believe false or misleading accounts, Newall says, and were also more likely to believe those claims were “completely true.”
This discovery was particularly strong with regard to the so-called “ghost flights”. Republicans accuse the Biden administration of organizing secret flights carrying migrants from the border to communities across the country. But immigrant advocates stress the thefts are neither secret nor new, and accuse Republican critics of fearmongering for political purposes.
The poll asked whether the United States was “secretly flying unaccompanied migrant children across the country at night.” Among Republicans whose primary source of news is Fox or conservative media, about eight in 10 called that statement true, Newall said. However, Republicans who get their news elsewhere weren’t so sure; only four out of 10 answered true.
Decline in support for immigration and increase in approval for a border wall
When NPR asked Americans about immigration in 2018, three in four respondents agreed that “immigrants are an important part of our American identity.”
Today, that number has dropped sharply.
That’s not the only sign of eroding support for immigrants in the latest poll.
Surveyed four years ago, nearly two-thirds of those polled favored a path to legal status for so-called Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children. Now that support has fallen to a simple majority, mostly due to a sharp drop among Republicans and independents.
There has also been a modest but steady increase in support for a southern border wall, from 38% in favor four years ago to 46% now.
It is not known why these numbers have changed. Mallory Newall at Ipsos suspects the explanation is linked to broader concerns about inflation and the economy.
“One thing we know is that during times of bad economic conditions, for example, the 2009 recession, support for immigration drops,” she said.
There is also a theory that support for immigrants tends to decline when there is a perception of chaos on the southern border. And the spread of false and misleading claims could also be a factor.
The reach of false and misleading claims could increase
The survey suggests that the reach of some false and misleading claims could increase.
Four years ago, NPR asked if “immigrants are more likely to commit crimes or be incarcerated than the US-born population.” At the time, over 60% of respondents correctly identified this statement as fake. But when asked again this year, only 49% answered correctly.
This wasn’t the only issue where Americans’ understanding of immigration has seemingly declined over the past four years.
In 2018, six in 10 respondents correctly said that most undocumented immigrants to the United States had been in the country for more than a decade. This time, 43% answered correctly; almost as many said they didn’t know.
“There have always been a lot of framing issues around immigration that have intentionally distorted the facts at times,” said Sophia Jordán Wallace, a University of Washington political science professor who has studied false and misleading claims about immigration. ‘immigration.
Wallace says there is a long tradition in American politics of blaming immigrants for the real problems facing the country in order to mobilize voters — whether or not there is a connection between these immigrants and the problems they face. are accused of causing.
These misleading or false claims do not always find their way into the mainstream. But sometimes, Wallace says, they do.
“Once it comes out, it’s hard to fix,” she said.
The NPR/Ipsos poll was conducted July 28-29, 2022, with a sample of 1,116 adults online. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points for all respondents.