April 1, 2014

Catholics, other Christians support immigration reform, but say faith plays small role

Views on immigration by select race and religionSeveral prominent U.S. Catholic bishops called attention to immigration reform today in Nogales, Ariz., along the border with Mexico. The bishops celebrated Mass and said they would “pray for and remember” the migrants who have died trying to cross the border. Their goal, they said, was to highlight “the human consequences of a broken immigration system and call upon the U.S. Congress” to fix it. Immigration reform also came up during last week’s meeting between President Obama and Pope Francis.

It’s not just Catholic leaders who are speaking out over reform. Some large Protestant evangelical organizations are strong supporters of immigration reform, as are some Mormon and mainline Protestant leaders. They have framed the issue as a moral one, with both Christian and Jewish leaders citing a verse from the book of Leviticus: “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens.”

Three-quarters of American adults say that immigrants living in the United States illegally should be able to stay, according to our 2014 survey. Catholics as a whole closely resemble the general public on this question, though Hispanic Catholics are much more supportive than non-Hispanic white Catholics of allowing undocumented immigrants to remain in the country (91% vs. 70%).  Like Catholics, majorities of other religious groups also support allowing undocumented immigrants to remain in the country.

Half of Americans – including 59% of Catholics – say it’s extremely or very important to them for President Obama and Congress to pass significant new immigration legislation this year. Not surprisingly, the issue is of particular concern to Hispanic Catholics, 73% of whom say passing immigration legislation should be an extremely or very important priority for political leaders this year. Among white Catholics and people from other racial and religious backgrounds, by contrast, half or fewer attach this level of importance to immigration reform. 

While the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is pushing for legislative action on immigration, it also recently asked Obama to use his executive powers to limit deportations. In February, we asked Americans whether the increased number of deportations of undocumented immigrants in recent years is a good thing or a bad thing. The public is evenly split on this issue (45% say it’s a good thing vs. 45% bad thing), as are U.S. Catholics (47% say it’s a good thing vs. 46% bad thing).

When it comes to prioritizing immigration reform and views of deportations, differences between the parties and among racial and ethnic groups are as large as or larger than the divisions among religious groups. Far more Republicans than Democrats say that increased deportations in recent years have been a good thing, and Hispanics are much more likely than non-Hispanic whites and blacks to say passing immigration legislations is a very or extremely important thing to do.

And a survey we conducted in 2010 found that just 7% of U.S. adults said their religious beliefs were the biggest influence on their thinking regarding illegal immigration. It was far more common for people to cite their personal experience (26%), education (20%) or what they have seen or read in the media (20%) as the most important influence on their thinking about this topic.

Topics: Immigration Attitudes, Religion and U.S. Politics

  1. Photo of Michael Lipka

    is a senior editor focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.


  1. slk3 years ago

    i would give amnesty, to any, as long as they pass a background check, and want to assimilate and work!!! i’m an immigrant myself, and took 7 years to do it the right way!!! i will never, ever raise the czech flag higher then the stars and stripes!!! i am an American first, with a background of czech culture!!! God Bless America!!!

    1. anthony3 years ago

      kudos to you man !!!!!

  2. Sue3 years ago

    I highly doubt that anywhere near 73% of American’s think illegals should be allowed to stay. This poll was obviously extremely left wing biased or it is giving false results. The real numbers are probably just the opposite with 73% being against amnesty.

  3. Mike Hanauer3 years ago

    Our open borders Immigration policy is short-term oriented and very selfish…
    I have been studying population and environmental issues for over 25 years and have come to believe that for the US, for other countries, and for the world – the most humane and environmental tact is to HELP PEOPLE WHERE THEY ARE – not to encourage them to migrate.

    Migration to the US increases our own very unsustainable and growing population level with its devastating local and global environmental impacts, relieves us from training and hiring our own many low wage workers, takes pressure off of source countries to deal with their own population growth and related economic problems, and draws away from those countries the very people who are most likely to be leaders in their native lands to help improve conditions. Some countries have asked us, in fact, to better enforce our laws to help them better their own conditions. We must set an example and stop being selfish.

    Population is the great multiplier!

    Don’t be a deep feeler and a poor thinker. – George C. Marshall, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, 1953.

    1. Marcia3 years ago

      I couldn’t agree more. So much of the pro-immigration rhetoric is coming from groups who stand to benefit–Democrats are hoping for more votes, the Catholic/Christian churches are looking for more parishioners and more help in overturning Roe v. Wade, and the Chamber of Commerce is looking for cheap labor. Few are looking at the demographic and environmental impact of an increasing population, and currently immigration is the big population driver in this country.

      This has many environmental and economic implications. More people mean more urban sprawl, more asphalt, more roads, more shopping centers, the logging of old growth forests, and the displacement and death of wildlife. At the local community level the costs for education and social programs increase faster than the funding available. Rising property taxes make life more difficult for homeowners. Our aging electrical grid is overworked already, and the drought in various parts of the country is making even having enough water an issue now.

      Having large numbers of people coming into the country quickly may mean that more are unwilling to assimilate and may demand continuing cultural traditions that are not favored in this country. Those who worry about big changes in their community or problems associated with large numbers of new people are frequently accused of racism. Worry about large-scale immigration has nothing to do with race or xenophobia. It has everything to do with resources, jobs, environment, and the lives of other creatures who share this earth with us.

      We need to stop the flow at the border and find ways to convince the would-be immigrants’ leaders to make their home country a better place.

  4. Edward Silha3 years ago

    Do the first three comments reflect a true belief in the words of Christ? Do they reflect the concern Christ had for his fellow man and especially those less fortunate? Did Christ place obeying the law at a higher priority than caring for your neighbor?

    1. slk3 years ago

      “give to caesar, what is caesars, and to God, what is God’s”!!! you don’t break one law, to compensate another!!!

      1. Pablo3 years ago

        I agree, that the solution isn’t to “break the law.” However, there needs to be Comprehensive Immigration Reform, and an acknowledgement that you can’t fully legislate the human spirit, demographic trends, or even fully control the border.
        I’m as pro-immigration as you can get, but also agree in law and order. There needs to be a balance.

    2. Pablo3 years ago

      Immigration is a complex issue. America, in my opinion, is fairly generous to immigrants. Despite times in its past where racism and intolerance have been seen, in general it has lived up to its motto of “E pluribus unum.”
      Saying that, and living along the border with Mexico, I see the insanity.
      I believe in more open borders, in free trade, family reunification, and that Jesus would be welcoming to immigrants.
      I’m pro-immigrant, but also respect the job the Border Patrol plays. It’s a hard and necessary job.
      God Bless America, and its inhabitants. Be they newcomers, descendants of immigrants, or Native Americans. We have to come together, talk respectfully of the realities on the ground, and develop an immigration policy that isn’t based on intolerance, nor on fake promises that getting rid of law and order altogether can be good.

  5. G F White3 years ago

    EVERY YEAR, ONE MILLION Chinese and Arabic and Hispanic criminal invaders cross our Southern Border. See the Movie “They come to America 2” Hard working Catholics give offerings to their Church each week to see the Bishops squander it like this. That money is for the AMERICAN Church. needs. If the Church wants to help Mexicans, go one country further. The Chinese and Muslims do not join the Church. The Bishops are causing the faithful to leave the Church. The Catholic Bishops have carelessly given large amounts of money to illegal aliens. These people were not kidnapped. They broke the law and unfairly compete for our jobs. Americans are facing high unemployment and many cities and states have staggering bills to pay for education and medical expenses for criminal invaders. We want our existing laws enforced.

  6. Terry Magyar3 years ago

    I don’t understand why the Bishops support such a criminal enterprise as illegal immigration ? No doubt some Catholics support this, but many oppose any form of amnesty for illegal immigration.

  7. Ed Uktr3 years ago

    No poll finds a majority of Catholics support amnesty.

    1. Pablo3 years ago

      Except the poll this article is based on, and every other poll.