American Opinions on Immigration

50 Years Later: American Opinions On Immigration

An Overview of Recent Immigration Trends

The United States often likes to tout its openness to immigration, referring to its own culture as a “melting pot” of immigrant cultures. Despite this, there still seems to be a vocal group rejecting such a status. So what are the American opinions on immigration? Immigration, with nearly 60 million immigrants arriving within the last 50 years, bringing the total percentage of the population to almost 14 percent, it’s a question worth investigating. Contemporary immigrants account for roughly half of the nation’s population growth, they have reshaped the demographics of the United States; but how have they reshaped the mindsets of those citizens already here? Seeking to answer this question, U.S.-based Pew Research Center took a look at U.S. Census Bureau data as well as its own population projections to paint a better picture.

The starting point of the inquiry was Pew’s own 100-year population projections beginning in 1965, the year the Immigration and Nationality Act shifted the importance from the quota system, a system favoring European immigrants, to a greater emphasis on reunifying families and inviting skilled workers, and stretching to 2065. This was done, in large part, because the number of immigrants arriving to the United States in the last 50 years actually exceeds the number of European immigrants that came in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

american opinions on Immigration Pew research

U.S. Foreign-Born Population Reached 45 Million in 2015. Projected to Reach 78 Million by 2065.

Historical Immigration Data From Pew

Pew found that since the landmark 1965 act, the number of immigrants coming from elsewhere in the world has grown substantially. Looking at immigration numbers of the last 50 years, a little more than half of those that have immigrated to the United States are from Latin America while about one-quarter of them are from Asia. This changes not only the physical makeup of the U.S., but the cultural make-up as well. For instance, due to the predominance of immigrants, the U.S. does not have any official language and in many places public signage can be read in both English and Spanish (accounting for the significant number of Spanish-speaking Americans).

What does this rattling shake-up mean in terms of how natural-born citizens view immigrants and immigration? Well, according to Pew Research, views are “mixed”. They found that while 45 percent of Americans believe that immigrants make the United States better in the long run, 37 percent believe the opposite, that immigration is a detriment to U.S. society. Sixteen percent don’t see them as having that much of an effect on society. Before assuming that this division of American opinions on immigration is along political party lines, worth mentioning is that a 2013 Gallup poll found that 31 percent of Americans identified as Democrats while 25 percent identified as Republican. The same poll found a record 42 percent identifying as Independent.

Alongside these findings, it is worth noting that the Pew survey also reported that half of Americans would like a reduction in immigrants, and that 82 percent of those surveyed think that immigration is in need of a major overhaul.

The Immigration Divide

It’s no surprise that American opinions on immigration vary greatly. This means that with the issue being as hotly divisive as it is in American opinion, immigration is something that will need to be embraced and addressed by politicians from all parties going forward. As the number of immigrants becoming U.S. citizens continues to swell, their role in deciding elections grows as well. Thus, the structure of U.S. immigration policy is not something that can be ignored as the issue of reform has become one of the hot-button topics of elections from the local to national level.

Pew reports that when the 1965 law was passed, “relatively few anticipated the size or demographic impact of the post-1965 immigration flow.” However, now that such an impact is a very clear reality, it is evident that sooner rather than later the manner in which the U.S. treats its immigrants will be be seeing some sort of significant change.

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