70 percent of Americans see immigration as threat to American way of life

Large majorities of Americans say illegal immigration threatens the American way of life and places an undue burden on the economy. The data represent a shift from past polls, raising the possibility that the border crisis has affected attitudes.

Yfat Yossifor/The Bay City Times/AP
Protesters from both sides of the national immigration debate rally Monday, outside of Bay City City Hall, in Bay City, Mich.

An overwhelming majority of Americans believe undocumented immigrants pose a threat to the American way of life, according to a new poll.

Some 70 percent of Americans and 86 percent of Republicans believe that undocumented immigrants threaten traditional US beliefs and customs, according to an online Reuters/Ipsos poll released Thursday. Nearly two-thirds of respondents – 63 percent – said that undocumented immigrants place undue burden on the US economy.

Forty-five percent of respondents said that they feel that the number of immigrants allowed to legally enter the country should be reduced; only 17 percent said they thought that number should increase. That's in sharp contrast to opinions expressed six months ago in a February Pew Research Center poll, which found that nearly three-quarters of Americans would support a legal path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

That was before news broke in June that more than 50,000 unaccompanied children, mostly from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala had been apprehended at the border since October. Since then, immigration has leaped to the forefront of the national dialogue in recent months.

Immigration could be a dominant issue in the upcoming midterm elections and could drive more Republican voters to the polls, Ipsos pollster Chris Jackson speculated in a Reuters interview. Immigration is already a contentious issue in Colorado, Arkansas, and Arizona. Even in New England, more than 2,000 miles from the border, Senate candidate Scott Brown has evoked immigration as a key issue. In May, Mr. Brown launched an offensive campaign ad criticizing incumbent Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D) of New Hampshire of “pro-amnesty policies.”

The number of Americans citing immigration as the No. 1 national problem jumped from just 5 percent in June to 17 percent in July, according to a July Pew Research Center poll.

The Obama administration has zeroed in on immigration as a major priority. The president said in June that he would be forced to take executive action if Congress failed to pass meaningful immigration reform by the end of the summer. As of Aug. 1, the day federal lawmakers left Washington for a five-week summer recess; no such legislation had been passed.

One respondent to the new poll, retiree Tom Vanderbur of Denver, expressed frustration with legislators for their inaction but added that he did not think that granted the president license to take unilateral action.

“I don’t think that he has a right to just make those kinds of decisions on his own,” said Mr. Vanderbur, a registered Democrat.

A second poll, released Wednesday by CBS, found that only 31 percent of Americans are satisfied with Obama’s current handling of immigration.

Further executive action could drive Republican voters to the polls this November and fuel impeachment talk, political analysts say.

“If President Obama issues a jarring set of executive actions on legalization he could be handing the Senate to the GOP,” Republican strategist Ford O’Connell told Reuters.

This report includes material from Reuters.

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