Comparison with National Public Opinion Findings

The focus group research findings are both consistent and at variance with recent national public opinion survey findings. High levels of joblessness have historically led to the scapegoating of immigrants in this country. The fears and insecurities expressed by participants in both the Southern and California focus groups are consistent with recent national surveys indicating that the perception that undocumented immigrants are a direct threat to “American jobs” may be increasing. A June 2010 Pew Research Center survey showed that at that time, only 30 percent thought undocumented immigrants “took jobs away from Americans.”4 But a survey conducted in August-September of 2011 found that 57 percent of U.S. adults felt that way—a significant increase in a relatively short period of time.5

The hostility of Southern focus group participants to comprehensive reform and their expressed reliance on enforcement-only approaches are not reflected in national survey data. Californians’ beliefs are more representative of U.S. public opinion overall that the system is “broken” and that comprehensive reform, which combines better enforcement with a path to citizenship, is the right solution to the problem. Prioritizing enforcement while at the same time supporting CIR is the norm in the U.S. today. An August 2011 survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute asked respondents to choose which of two statements came closest to their own views:

  • First Statement: The best way to solve the country’s illegal immigration problem is to secure our borders and arrest and deport all those who are here illegally.
  • Second Statement: The best way to solve the country’s illegal immigration problem is to both secure our borders and provide an earned path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already in the U.S.

Thirty-six percent chose the first statement and 62 percent chose the second.6

The across-the-board hostility towards undocumented immigrants expressed by many Southern focus group participants who are members of constituencies thought to be “persuadable,” such as progressive whites and African Americans, was also out of step with opinion nationwide. Most focus group participants opposed a path to citizenship on the grounds it would reward “criminal behavior.” As noted above, most Americans support a path to citizenship if certain conditions are met and although a majority of 55 percent say they have an “unfavorable view” of “illegal immigrants,”7 a larger majority (67 percent) also say they are either very or somewhat sympathetic to “illegal immigrants and their families.”8 First Research further reports that many of the Southern focus group participants “regurgitate the harsh and often erroneous rhetoric of the anti-immigrant movement.”