Analysis of Immigration Public Opinion and its Effect on Immigration Reform

Student Author(s)

Alejandra Gómez Limon

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Virginia Beard

Document Type


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Current popular media coverage as well as discourse by elected officials suggests confusion regarding immigration in the United States. Research by the Pew foundation reveals that Americans are historically wary of admitting refugees (Desilver 2015). And yet nearly 59 million immigrants have arrived in the U.S. in the past fifty years, after the passage of a 1965 bill that rewrote U.S. immigration policy (“Modern Immigration” 2015). Most recent public opinion research on American perceptions of immigration shows mixed results. Just over 45% of Americans say immigrants in the U.S. are making American society better overall and for the long run, while 37% say they are making it worse (16% say immigrants are not having much effect). Nearly half of Americans want to see immigration to the U.S. reduced (49%), and 82% say the U.S. immigration system either needs major changes or it needs to be completely rebuilt. And yet the public is split in its views on whether immigrants are making things economically, politically or socially better or worse off (“Modern Immigration” 2015). Overall, the literature does not offer a clear picture on how these views that Americans hold regarding immigration and immigrants affect what changes they want to see in the U.S. immigration system. Thus, this study primarily analyzes how people’s stereotypes—or what policy literature would categorize as deeply held beliefs—about immigration/immigrants translate into their preferences on immigration policy. Also missing in the current research is an understanding on if and how the policy preferences of the general public regarding immigration translate into actual policy formation. Thus, this paper secondarily addresses how immigration policy preferences impact the policies that result regarding immigration.

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