President Donald Trump’s now-suspended policy of separating illegal immigrants from their children was hugely unpopular, but a pair of recent polls suggests voters do not support the pre-Trump status quo, either.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions in April ordered first-time illegal border crossers to be charged with illegal entry, even if they were traveling with children. That required a separation — parents went to jail to answer the charges, while children went to facilities run by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). An outcry ensued.
Trump last week signed an executive order reversing that policy, and a federal judge on Tuesday issued an order prohibiting the practice and giving the government 30 days to reunite families.
Polls this month by CBS News and Economist/YouGov registered little support for the idea — 4 percent and 12 percent, respectively.
But simply releasing the entire family into the interior of the United States to await an immigration court hearing — the preferred option of most congressional Democrats — also has little support. The Economist/YouGov survey, conducted June 17-19, pegged it at 19 percent. The CBS poll, taken June 21-22, found 21 percent supported it.
“No, Americans haven’t lost their minds,” said Chris Chmielenski, director of content and activism at NumbersUSA, which advocates for less immigration.
Chmielenski said the surveys stand as a strong counterweight to media coverage of the issue over the past few weeks.
“One would think that Americans are completely against what’s happening at the border, and they completely are for open borders,” he said.
The CBS poll indicates that 11 percent of voters believe illegal immigrant parents should be arrested but kept in the same detention facility with their kids. The most popular option — 48 percent — said the entire family should be returned to their home country.
The Economist/YouGov poll suggested 8 percent favor arresting both the parents and children. Some 44 percent said the government should hold families together until court dates arrive.
Matthew O’Brien, director of research at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), said the polling reflects an understanding that — even if people are queasy about separating families — illegal immigrants who bring children with them bear responsibility for their actions.
“I think the public gets that to a much greater extent than many of the politicians, much of the academia, and much of the media give it credit for,” he said.
While many Americans believe illegal immigrants families should immediately be returned to their own countries, O’Brien said many likely do not understand the obstacles that prevent that. Illegal immigrants who pursue asylum or other immigration relief trigger a process that takes longer than the 20 days that a child can be held.
O’Brien said it is significant that given media coverage, only one in five voters supports releasing families who come illegally.
“It’s entirely counter to the narrative,” he said.
Chmielenski called on lawmakers to close the loopholes that prevent the quick return of illegal immigrants and their children.
“Congress can fix this pretty easily,” he said.
Still, a Morning Consult/Politico poll released Wednesday indicates that the debate has taken a toll on Trump. Voters disapproved of his handling of the issue by a margin of 49 percent to 43 percent. And a plurality believe immigration policy has gotten worse under Trump.