Children of immigrant parents hold signs in support of them and those individuals picked up during an immigration raid at a food processing plant, during a protest march to the Madison County Courthouse in Canton, Miss., on Sunday. (Rogelio V. Solis/AP)
Opinion writer

On the day President Trump’s administration has unilaterally declared its intent to disallow certain benefits including food stamps to legal immigrants and reduce legal immigration, a new poll shows the public is generally not in tune with his virulent xenophobia.

The Pew Research Center finds a clear majority disapproves of the handling of the immigrant situation and takes a very different view of what to do about it than Trump:

Nearly two-thirds of Americans (65%) say the federal government is doing a very bad (38%) or somewhat bad (27%) job dealing with the increased number of people seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border. . . . In assessing the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border, the public views several goals as important. But more people give priority to addressing the backlog of asylum cases and improving conditions for asylum seekers than to making it harder — or easier — for asylum seekers to be granted legal status.

In views of the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border, 86% say it is either very (52%) or somewhat (34%) important to increase the number of judges handling asylum cases. Nearly as many (82%) say it is important to provide safe and sanitary conditions for asylum seekers once they arrive in the U.S, including 52% who say this is very important.


Republicans are less enthusiastic about giving asylum seekers safe and sanitary conditions. “Democrats are more than twice as likely as Republicans to say providing safe and sanitary conditions for asylum seekers is very important (71% vs. 32%).” Republicans are also very much opposed to letting desperate asylum seekers into the United States. “Fairly similar shares of the public rate the conflicting goals of making it easier (60%) or harder (53%) for asylum seekers to be granted legal status in the U.S. These views are deeply divided along partisan lines, with 77% of Republicans saying it is important to make it more difficult for asylum seekers to gain legal status and a comparable majority of Democrats (79%) saying it is important to make this process easier.”

There still is overwhelming bipartisan support (72 percent) for giving illegal immigrants a path to citizenship, and even Republicans, albeit by a smaller margin, favor a path to citizenship (54 percent). But to give you a sense of how anti-immigrant the GOP has become: “Overall, 23% of the public opposes legal status for undocumented immigrants and supports a national effort to deport all immigrants living in the country illegally. Among Republicans and Republican leaners, 42% – including nearly half (49%) of conservative Republicans — would support an effort to deport all undocumented immigrants in the U.S.” Trump is playing to precisely the people who make up his core voters — those who presumably are fine with seeing families torn apart, cities and businesses disrupted and massive police efforts across the country.

Unlike Trump, most voters (77 percent) think illegal immigrants mostly fill jobs American citizens don’t want, and 73 percent say immigrants are “as honest and hardworking as American citizens and 69% say [correctly!] they are no more likely than citizens to commit serious crimes.” Even 64 percent of Republicans say illegal immigrants in the United States mostly take jobs citizens do not want, while a small majority (54 percent) say they are as honest and hard-working as U.S. citizens. A plurality of Republicans (49 percent) incorrectly say illegal immigrants commit more crimes than others, a clear sign Trump’s noxious racism and repeated lying on this point have had an impact on his party.

From all this, we take away three points. First, intense anti-immigrant sentiment remains a feature of the GOP but has not come to dominate Republicans’ mind-set. Second, it’s essential for Democrats, Democratic leaners and others sympathetic to a fair and humane immigration system to turn out to vote. Third, there are majorities (albeit heavily made up of Democrats) who favor the things mainstream Democratic contenders for president have been saying — more judges, humane treatment of asylum seekers and a path to citizenship for those here. So long as there is a Republican president and Republican Senate, those things are unlikely to occur.

Read more:

Greg Sargent: Don’t fear the immigration debate, Democrats

Paul Waldman: The Trump administration ramps up its war on legal immigration

The Post’s View: ICE sweeps are cruel. Without immigration reform, they’re pointless, too.

Paul Waldman: Trump’s ultimate immigration failure

Marc A. Thiessen: Democrats say no one is above the law — except on immigration