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Americans’ immigration policy priorities: Divisions between – and within – the two parties

Democrats and Republicans have starkly different priorities when it comes to the nation’s immigration policies. Yet there also are ideological differences within both parties on the importance of some priorities, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.

Two-thirds of Americans (67%) say it is very or somewhat important to establish a way for most immigrants in the country illegally to remain here legally, according to the survey, which comes as the Supreme Court evaluates the Trump administration’s decision to end a program that has protected from deportation nearly 800,000 unauthorized immigrants who arrived in the United States as children.

And while 82% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say this is a very or somewhat important goal, only about half of Republicans and Republican leaners (48%) say the same.

Sizable majorities of Americans also rate other policy goals as important: 68% say it is very or somewhat important to increase security along the U.S.-Mexico border, and 73% say it is important to take in refugees escaping war and violence. The public is more closely divided on the importance of increasing deportations of unauthorized immigrants, with 54% saying this is a very or somewhat important goal and 45% saying it is not too or not at all important.

The survey, conducted Sept. 3 to 15, comes amid some recent shifts in immigration patterns. In the fiscal year that ended in September, the number of migrant apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border reached its highest level since 2007. At the same time, the number of refugees being resettled into the U.S. is at its lowest point in nearly four decades, with further cuts expected in the current fiscal year.

Partisan, ideological differences

Views of immigration policy goals are sharply divided along partisan and ideological lines. Republicans and independents who lean toward the Republican Party are much more likely than Democrats and Democratic leaners to emphasize the importance of increasing border security and increasing deportations. Meanwhile, more Democrats than Republicans view providing a pathway to legal status for unauthorized immigrants and taking in refugees as very or somewhat important goals.

About nine-in-ten Republicans (91%) say that increasing border security is very or somewhat important, with seven-in-ten (70%) calling this a very important goal.

Conservative Republicans (who make up about two-thirds of all Republicans and Republican leaners) are especially likely to view this as an important goal, with 81% in this group saying that increasing security is very important, compared with 52% among moderate and liberal Republicans.

About half of Democrats and Democratic leaners (49%) rate increased border security as an important policy goal. Among Democrats, conservatives and moderates (who make up roughly half of Democrats and Democratic leaners) are more likely than liberal Democrats to rate this as a very or somewhat important goal (60% vs. 37%).

The divide between partisans is even larger when it comes to increased deportations of unauthorized immigrants. Around eight-in-ten Republicans (83%) say that increasing deportations is important, including 51% who say it is very important. Among Democrats, only around three-in-ten (31%) call this an important goal, and just 10% call it very important.

Majorities of both partisan groups say that taking in refugees fleeing war and violence is an important goal. Nonetheless, more Democrats (85%) view it as important than Republicans (58%). About half of Democrats (47%) say that taking in refugees is very important, compared with just 15% of Republicans.

Liberal Democrats, in particular, emphasize the importance of allowing unauthorized immigrants to stay and admitting refugees into the country. Majorities of liberal Democrats say that each goal is very important (56% and 58%, respectively), compared with about four-in-ten conservative and moderate Democrats in each case (39% and 38%).

Shifting views on refugees

Views on these immigration priorities have changed somewhat over the past three years. Since 2016, Americans have become slightly more likely to say it’s important to establish a way for those here illegally to stay in the country – and they have become slightly less likely to say it’s important to increase deportations.

The most notable change has occurred in attitudes toward taking in refugees. In the earlier survey, 61% said that admitting refugees escaping war and violence was a very or somewhat important goal. In the new survey, the share has increased to 73%.

Shifting views among Republicans account for most of this increase. In 2016, 40% of Republicans said admitting refugees was an important goal. Today, a majority of Republicans (58%) hold this view. The share of Republicans who now say admitting refugees should be a somewhat important goal has risen from 28% in 2016 to 43% today. The proportion who say this should be a very important goal has remained essentially the same (13% in 2016, 15% today).

Note: See full topline results and methodology.