Changes in Attitudes About Immigrants

Having practiced immigration law for more than 25 years, I was interested in a recent study done by the Pew Research Institute. When I first started handling immigration matters, immigration was, from my perspective, rarely discussed. But over the last few years, I have had people (citizens whose families had been in the U.S. for generations) come up to me in the grocery store or at meetings and thank me for the work that I am doing. This led me to wonder, is this just my perspective or have things changed. Clearly there exists a great deal of sometimes vicious anti-immigrant discourse but I have also seen a positive change in attitudes towards immigrants. The Pew Research study confirmed my observation that the U.S. has come to see more and more that Immigrants strengthen the U.S. While the article said that attitudes have changed little in recent years, I was more interested in seeing the comparison of attitudes between now and 1994, well after I started in immigration law. In recent years 62% of the American public say immigrants strengthen the country because of their hard work and talent. 28% think they are a burden because they take jobs, housing and health care. According to Pew Research, in 1994 “attitudes were nearly the reserve of what they are today: 63% of Americans said immigrants burdened the country and 31% said they strengthened it.”

The study does show a sharp partisan divide in attitudes. Democrats/lean democrats overwhelmingly say immigrants are a strength (83%) vs. just 11% who say immigrants are a burden. Among Republicans/lean republicans, 38% say immigrants strengthen the country while 49% say they burden it.

The study also highlights the generational differences in attitudes. It showed that 75% of millennials say immigrants strengthen the U.S. vs. 64% of Gen Xers, 52% of Baby Boomers and 44% in the Silent generation. In 1994, there was little difference in attitudes among Gen Xers, Boomer and silent generations who all expressed positive views of immigrants. Pew points out that a generational difference is evident in both parties but are especially evident among Republicans. 58% of Millennial Republicans say immigrants strengthen the country compared with just 36% of Gen Ex Republicans and even smaller positive attitudes among older Republican generations. Among Democrats, the study found only small differences among generations with no few than 70% of all generations having a positive view of immigration.

Linda M Kaplan
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