Do Americans Really Want More Undocumented Immigrants Deported?

According to a poll by Rasmussen Reports being trumpeted by right-wing media, a majority of American voters believe the Obama administration is “not aggressive enough in deporting those who are in this country illegally.” The poll also found that a majority of white as well as minority voters “oppose a halt to deportations.” But these results don't take into account the federal government's record on deportations and are contradicted by a veritable litany of polls taken this year and over the past two years.

Conservative media are promoting the poll as evidence that the country wants more undocumented immigrants deported and that this proves that the current border enforcement and deportation policies of the Obama administration are too lax.

The poll, a national survey of 1,000 likely U.S. voters conducted December 8-9, asked vague and out-of-context questions about a specific category of immigrants (those who overstay their visas) including:

  • Millions of people entered the United States legally but stayed longer than their visas allowed. Should the federal government find these people and make them leave the country?
  • Is the U.S. government too aggressive or not aggressive enough in deporting those who are in this country illegally? Or is the number of deportations about right?

But the first question -- which used the language “make them leave the country” instead of “deport” -- failed to put the overstays in context. According to a February 2013 study, overstays declined by 73 percent between 2000 and 2009 thanks to enhanced security measures by DHS in the years following the September 11, 2001, attacks. The Wall Street Journal reported in April that about 40 percent of the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the country are those who overstayed their visas. The article continued:

Little is known about the demographics of the so-called overstayer population, but some studies suggest they tend to be better educated and more fluent in English than those who crossed the border illegally. They also are more likely to hail from European, Asian and African countries. And in many cases, they used tourist visas to enter the U.S.

Rasmussen also botched the second question which asked about the number of deportations. How would respondents gauge the aggressiveness or lack thereof of the government's policies absent the facts of those policies? Moreover, the poll never asked the respondents how many immigrants are deported each year in an effort to ascertain the extent of what they know about immigration enforcement.

Indeed, according to a November study by the Public Religion Research Institute, most Americans don't know much about deportations:

Few Americans are aware that deportation rates have increased during the past five or six years, and knowledge of the change in deportation rates varies by geographic location. Among Americans overall, less than 3-in-10 (28%) report, correctly, that the number of immigrants who were deported back to their home countries has increased in recent years. More than 4-in-10 (42%) believe it has stayed about the same, and 18% say deportations have decreased. Americans who reside in the West are more likely than other Americans to know that the number of deportations has increased during the last few years, but even in the West only about one-third (32%) are aware that deportations rates have increased.

The most substantial knowledge gap on this question is related to race and ethnicity. Nearly half (46%) of Hispanic Americans correctly report that the number of illegal immigrants who were deportated back to their home countries has increased during the past five or six years, compared to 34% of Asian Americans, 31% of black Americans, and less than one-quarter (24%) of white Americans.

As it stands, the Obama administration is the most aggressive administration when it comes to deportations. In fact, it is on track to hit the controversial milestone of 2 million deportations in the coming weeks, a mere year into his second term. President Bush deported 2 million undocumented immigrants during his eight years in office.

The aggressive nature of the administration's deportation policies has prompted critics to demand President Obama issue an executive order to halt deportations, which he says would violate the rule of law. On December 5, 29 House Democrats wrote a letter to Obama urging him to stop deportations.

In addition, numerous polls contradict the Rasmussen results, including the one by the Public Religion Research Institute:

Throughout 2013, views on immigration reform have remained remarkably steady, with more than 6-in-10 expressing support for a policy that would provide a way for immigrants who are currently living in the United States illegally to become citizens, provided they meet certain requirements. Currently, 63% of Americans support a path to citizenship, while 14% support allowing them to become permanent legal residents but not citizens, and roughly 1-in-5 (18%) favor a policy that would identify and deport all immigrants living in the United States illegally.

A Quinnipiac poll conducted in November affirmed the PRRI findings: “Illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay in the U.S. and eventually apply for U.S. citizenship, 57 percent of voters say. Another 12 percent say illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay, with no path to citizenship, while 26 percent say illegal immigrants should be forced to leave.” More polls that bear out those results can be found here.

Rasmussen has repeatedly been criticized for biased polling.

Image via VOXXI.