Americans Conflate Border Chaos and Legal Immigration | Cato at Liberty Blog

Of note (irregular crossings at Roxham Road in Canada provoke similar reactions):

A new poll released by Quinnipiac shows strong disapproval of President Biden’s immigration and border policies. According to the poll, 25 percent of respondents approve and 67 percent disapprove of Biden’s handling of immigration issues. Similarly, 23 percent approve and 67 percent disapprove of his handling of the situation on the Mexican border. This poll offers deep insights into how Americans think about immigration and ways for the Biden administration to get out of its chaotic immigration and border mess.

First, the similarity between the polling numbers suggests that Americans conflate what happens on the border with all of immigration policy. Of course, immigration policy is more than just border security. Legal immigration, such as allowing immigrants and migrants to legally come here from abroad, is the most important portion of immigration policy. Second, Americans are deeply concerned about border security issues. Apprehensions of immigrants along the border are up substantially over earlier years. The recent debacle over Haitian arrivals, the government’s heavy‐​handed response, and the certainty of future border arrivals from around the world feed the justified public perception of chaos along the border.

Border chaos makes Americans more opposed to immigration, both legal and illegal. As I’ve written before, there is a convincing academic literature on how public perceptions of chaos and illegal immigration reduce support for legal immigration around the world. When people feel like their government has lost control of immigration, voters are more likely to oppose legal immigration. That’s why the public’s opinion of immigration and the Mexican border are virtually identical in the Quinnipiac poll.

Smart commentators have noticed that the Quinnipiac questions do not indicate precisely what people disapprove of in Biden’s immigration policies. They’ve pointed out that Biden has pursued Trump’s immigration policies with some minor changes, many of which are more restrictive than Trump’s. There is evidence for this in other polls where a trend has emerged that those who are dissatisfied with immigration levels are increasingly dissatisfied because the numbers are too low – although more who are dissatisfied still want less immigration. Perhaps, these commentators claim, people are upset at Biden’s restrictive policies and harsh enforcement along the border? Unfortunately, that interpretation is too clever by half.

The Quinnipiac poll breaks down responses by political party. Democrats, who are more pro‐​immigration, support Biden’s policies while more immigration‐​skeptical Republicans oppose it. We’d see the opposite if the disapproval registered in the Quinnipiac poll were about Biden’s anti‐​immigration policies. The only confounding poll result is that 51 percent of respondents disapproved of deporting some Haitians without allowing them to apply for asylum, with 49 percent of Republicans and 30 percent of Democrats approving. This result is evidence that people are more supportive of immigration when people know how the immigration and enforcement systems actually operate.

Decoupling the immigration issue from the U.S.-Mexico border is key to liberalizing immigration. Candidate Biden ran on the most pro‐​immigration platform since Lincoln’s platform in 1864. If he wants to pursue those policies, his administration will have to reduce perceptions of chaos along the border.

How can he do that?

The first step is to recognize that more enforcement won’t reduce the perceptions of chaos. Even if 100 percent of illegal border crossers are returned or removed from the United States, the images of people crossing will continue to fuel the perceptions of chaos. With more enforcement, we’d even have more images and stories of chaos. The second step is realizing that few people are animated by opposition to legal immigration numbers. Sure, there are some organizations run by population control radicals like NumbersUSA that wants to reduce legal immigration, but they are not the norm. The third step is finding ways for these border crossers to enter legally and in an orderly fashion through ports of entry. By doing so, the scary images appearing in the media will disappear and the public will correctly perceive a vast reduction in chaos. Border Patrol agents can then focus their limited resources on intercepting actual security threats rather than asylum seekers and otherwise law‐​abiding illegal border crossers.

A streamlined parole process run at U.S. embassies and consulates far away from the border, expanded guest worker visa programs, and more green cards would channel many of the would‐​be border crossers into the legal immigration system and away from crossing between ports of entry. More importantly, such systems would allow vetting of migrants.

Opposition to immigration and the border chaos is mostly not a reflexive nativist reaction to immigrants. Americans like immigrants and are generally very welcoming, but Americans are rightly alarmed by chaos. For libertarians and many others, chaos is a sign of government failure and an indication that liberalization will reduce illegal immigration and chaos as it has in the past. For most Americans, their reaction to chaos is to be opposed to anything related to the cause of that chaos. This is the immigration Catch‐​22: Liberalization is required to get control over the border but border chaos politically prevents liberalization. The Biden administration can break that Catch‐​22 only by liberalizing first and incurring that political cost upfront. The political benefits for the Biden administration as well as the economic, social, and security benefits to U.S. society of a bold pro‐​immigration policy would be delayed but also much larger. As the Quinnipiac numbers show, Biden doesn’t have much to lose by following this approach.

Source: Americans Conflate Border Chaos and Legal Immigration | Cato at Liberty Blog

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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