American attitudes to immigration

Recent shifts in US policy may appear to reflect a negative change in American attitudes toward immigrants. In fact, the opposite is true.


adults and kids holding one nation sign and flag
Photo: iStock/Joel Carillet

Recent findings about American attitudes to immigration

Gallup, a respected national polling organization, has been asking questions about immigration since the 1960s. In nearly every category of questions about immigration, their results show that American attitudes toward immigrants today are more supportive than at any other time in their polling history.

Here is a graph that shows one important change:

toward immigration graph
The responses to the Gallup survey question are shown in percentages for each year.

Findings of the Pew Research Center back up the Gallup results. According to Pew, “In 2017, 65% of the public said immigrants strengthen the country with their hard work and talents, compared with 26% who said they burden the country by taking jobs, housing and health care.”

Other findings of Pew were:

  • Democrats are twice as likely as Republicans to view immigrants and immigration favorably.
  • Fewer than half of Americans know that more than 75% of immigrants are legally present in the United States.
  • Most Americans say that they are not bothered by interactions with immigrants who speak little or no English.
  • Most Americans believe that today’s newcomers are as willing or more willing to assimilate than those who came in the early 1900s.
  • Public support for legal immigration has almost doubled since 2006.

Attitudes to undocumented immigrants

As in the past, most Americans today believe that undocumented immigrants should have a path to legal residency and citizenship. Here are the results of Pew’s last big study in 2015:

“Large majorities in both parties continue to favor a way for allowing undocumented immigrants to stay in the U.S. legally, if certain requirements are met. About two-thirds of Republicans (66%) say people in the U.S. illegally should be allowed to stay if they meet certain requirements, while 32% say they should not be allowed to stay legally. By nearly a factor of five-to-one (80% to 17%), Democrats say undocumented immigrants should be allowed to stay in the U.S. legally, provided certain requirements are met.”

Attitudes to refugees

Americans are more divided on the issue of US responsibility for refugees. By a narrow margin (51% to 43%), Americans overall believe we do have a responsibility to accept refugees, but only 25% or Republicans agreed with that statement in 2018.