Why the immigration issue 'will not go away' for Americans

Adriana Belmonte
Associate Editor

Americans increasingly consider immigration to be the country’s main issue — as well as a good thing for the country — indicating that the topic will remain at the front of voters’ minds going into the 2020 election.

According to a recent Gallup poll, a record 23% of respondents indicated that immigration is the main issue in the country.

“This means that the issue will not go away until policymakers find a way to resolve this issue to the satisfaction of American voters,” Alex Nowrasteh, the director of immigration studies at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, told Yahoo Finance.

Americans don’t seem confident that will happen anytime soon as politicians, most notably President Donald Trump, take hardline positions on immigration. And 26% of respondents said “the government” is the main issue facing the country.

Furthermore, a record 76% described immigration as a good thing for the country.

“America’s demographic and workforce challenges mean we need more workers to grow and I think most people would agree it is much better that those future workers enter the United States legally,” Stuart Anderson, the executive director for the National Foundation for American Policy, told Yahoo Finance.

Salvadoran migrants wait for a transport to arrive after turning themselves into US Border Patrol by border fence under construction in El Paso, Texas on March 19, 2019. (Photo: PAUL RATJE/AFP/Getty Images)

‘Immigrants are an integral part of the American community’

Immigration was a main talking point during the first round of the Democratic presidential debates. Much of the focus was on President Trump’s policies and sharp rhetoric, which has drawn rebukes from critics, particularly due to the current condition of immigrant detention centers.

“President Trump’s focus on this policy issue, his actions, and public reaction to them have likely pushed people into having an opinion — and they are mostly not agreeing with him,” Nowrasteh said, adding that he’s “not surprised” by the findings “as public opinion has been gradually moving in this direction for a long time.”

The poll indicates that 43% of Americans think that immigrants are making the overall U.S. economy better. On the contrary, though, 42% say immigrants are having a negative effect on taxes.

“People increasingly realize that immigrants are an integral part of the American community and our economy, which likely one reason why there is so much support for them than before,” Nowrasteh said.

A WalletHub study looked where immigrants contribute most in America. (Graphic: David Foster/Yahoo Finance)

Yahoo Finance previously reported on a study from the U.S. Census Bureau, which revealed that immigrant-owned tech firms are more innovative than U.S.-born entrepreneur firms. The key reason for these findings is because of “higher propensities to engage in innovation and R&D” compared to locally-owned firms.

Notable immigrants involved in tech firms include Google (GOOGL) co-Founder Sergey Brin from the former Soviet Union and Tesla (TSLA) CEO Elon Musk from South Africa.

“Given that immigration news stories have been front and center on television and in newspaper coverage, it’s not surprising that immigration is viewed as an important problem,” Anderson said. “That doesn’t mean, of course, that everyone has the same solution to the problem, or even that people agree on what the immigration problem is right now.”

No easy fix to the immigration problem

Trump’s current immigration plan, laid out on the White House website, details two key components: implementing full border security and creating a merit-based legal immigration system.

“I think the polling data point toward solutions that bring greater legality to the immigration system, such as by providing people with more legal options to enter the country through work visas or, for those fleeing danger, through a more formal refugee program,” Anderson said.

President Donald Trump signs a $4.6 billion aid package to help the federal government cope with the surge of Central American immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border during a ceremony in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Monday, July 1, 2019. (Photo: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

The Gallup poll stated that opinions on the impact of immigration “have shifted in a more positive direction over the past two decades. Specifically, the public is much more positive today about immigration’s effect on the economy and job opportunities than they were in 2001.”

However, Nowrasteh suggested that some of these positive responses are due to social desirability bias, which “likely means that the degree of pro-immigration sentiment is exaggerated in this survey.”

Additionally, “this could change in the future if chaos continues along the border,” Nowrasteh said. “People do not like chaos, so the more orderly the system is, the more support there will be in the future for expanding legal immigration.”

Adriana is an associate editor for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @adrianambells.

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