NEW YORK – Although a clear majority of Americans believe illegal immigration is a very serious problem for the country, many think it is somebody else's problem — as fewer than one in four say it is a very serious problem for their community, according to the latest FOX News Poll. Seven in 10 people say they favor allowing illegals that have jobs to apply for temporary-worker status, but eight in 10 think it is unfair to grant rights to illegal immigrants while so many others wait to come to the United States legally.
In addition, the new poll finds that the president's job approval rating has slipped a couple of points and currently matches an earlier low recorded back in November. Today, 36 percent of Americans say they approve of the job George W. Bush is doing as president and 53 percent disapprove.
Approval among Republicans has dropped from consistently being above 80 percent to 74 percent approval today. And approval among Democrats is in the single digits, as fewer than one in 10 approve (8 percent).
Overall, more Americans (42 percent) think immigrants generally help make the country a better place to live than think they hurt the country (30 percent). One in five have a mixed view.
On the issue of jobs, about a third of Americans (34 percent) think illegal immigrants are taking jobs away from citizens, but more — nearly half (47 percent) — think illegals mainly do jobs Americans don't want to do.
When asked about the economic impact of this, nearly three times as many people think illegals cost the country because they don't pay taxes and use public services (65 percent) than think they benefit the country by doing jobs many Americans don't want (22 percent).
Serious Problem for the Country
Almost all Americans (90 percent) say illegal immigration is a "very" serious (60 percent) or "somewhat" serious (30 percent) problem for the country today — essentially unchanged from a year ago this time.
Republicans (65 percent) are somewhat more likely than Democrats (58 percent) to say illegal immigration is a "very" serious problem, and Americans over age 65 are significantly more likely than those under age 30 to think so (71 percent and 46 percent respectively).
When the question is geared toward the local level, the number saying it is a problem drops by about half, as less than a quarter (23 percent) saying illegal immigration is a "very" serious problem in their community and another 24 percent "somewhat" serious.
Opinion Dynamics Corporation conducted the national telephone poll of 900 registered voters for FOX News on April 4-5.
"Americans have a lot of contradictory views on immigration, both legal and illegal," comments Opinion Dynamics Chairman John Gorman. "They find immigrants make a contribution and that illegals do jobs that might otherwise not get done. However, when they have to calculate the bottom line, they aren't sure whether it is a net positive or negative."
Dealing with Illegal Immigrants
How do Americans want to deal with illegal immigrants? Large majorities favor increasing the number of border patrol agents (80 percent) and imposing fines and criminal charges against employers who hire illegals (73 percent).
By eight-to-one, Americans think it is unfair to grant rights to illegal immigrants while thousands of people wait each year to come to the United States legally. Fully 86 percent of Republicans think it is unfair, as do 77 percent of Democrats.
However, once illegal immigrants are across the border, Americans turn around a little. More than two-thirds (69 percent) favor allowing illegals who have jobs already to apply for legal, temporary-worker status, up from 62 percent last year (April 2005).
No real partisan or gender differences here, as sizable majorities of all groups are in favor of the temporary worker concept: Democrats (71 percent), Republicans (69 percent), independents (68 percent), women (71 percent) and men (68 percent).
Slimmer majorities favor deporting as many illegals as possible (57 percent) and using the U.S. military to stop entry at the borders (55 percent). Support for using the military has dropped from 67 percent a year ago, and a high of 79 percent in June 2002, when memories of the 9/11 terrorist attacks were more top of mind.
Half favor building a wall or fence along the U.S.-Mexico border to stop illegal immigration, while just over a third (36 percent) favor one along the U.S.-Canada border.
By three-to-one, Americans think illegal immigrants have a greater allegiance to their native countries (57 percent) than to the United States (18 percent), and a slim majority thinks most illegal immigrants just want to make money in the United States and go home (51 percent) rather than become citizens (33 percent) — possible explanations for why Americans seem less concerned about the deterioration of the country's culture than by other potential negatives.
Moreover, half of the public says it is common for people in their community to hire illegal immigrants to perform childcare or household jobs. There are clear regional differences, with 60 percent of those in the West saying it is common practice compared to 53 percent in the South and 42 percent in the Midwest.
What are the Concerns?
The top worry is that illegal immigrants will strain the government. Almost all Americans (87 percent) say they are concerned illegals will overburden government services, including 61 percent that are "very" concerned and another 26 percent that are "somewhat" concerned.
Less than a third of Americans (29 percent) say they are "very" concerned that illegal immigration will change the culture of the country. More people are concerned it will increase terrorism (34 percent very concerned), take away wanted jobs (37 percent) and increase crime (39 percent very concerned).
Most Americans (78 percent) would like to see a law making English the country's official language, including large majorities of Republicans (89 percent), independents (79 percent) and Democrats (68 percent). Similar numbers (77 percent) think speaking English should be a requirement of those applying to become U.S. citizens.
Even so, nearly four times as many Americans say they think it is more important for illegals to pay their fair share of taxes (45 percent) than to learn English (12 percent), with another 40 percent saying "both."
Similar to the president's job rating, more Americans disapprove than approve of the work being done on Capitol Hill.
Today, 29 percent of Americans say they approve of the job Republicans in Congress are doing, down from 34 percent approval last month and 37 percent at the beginning of the year.
Democrats in Congress fare about the same: 29 percent of voters approve, down from 36 percent in March and 39 percent in early January.
When the question changes from the big picture and instead focuses on the respondent's congressional representative specifically, the results reverse: 57 percent approve and 21 percent disapprove.
Will Immigration Matter in the 2006 Election?
Despite the high portion of Americans thinking illegal immigration is a serious problem in the United States, immigration comes in well behind other issues when voters are asked to think about what will be most important in deciding their vote for Congress this fall.
When read a list of seven issues, the economy (20 percent) and Iraq (19 percent) are the two issues that voters today say will matter most to them in the midterm election. Health care (17 percent) comes in third, edging out immigration (13 percent). Fewer than one in 10 say Social Security (9 percent), terrorism (9 percent) or ethics in Washington (6 percent) will be the most important issue to their vote.
By a 10-percentage point margin, voters say they think Democrats (34 percent) would do a better job than Republicans (24 percent) handling immigration issues, with one in five saying "neither."