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Many people in the United States believe that immigrants help the economy, but there is concern about potential dangers, according to a poll by AP-NORC

A new poll indicates that Americans are more concerned about legal immigrants committing crimes in the U.S. than they were a few years ago, with Republicans showing a particularly higher level of concern. Meanwhile, Democrats continue to see a wide

By REBECCA SANTANA and AMELIA THOMSON-DEVEAUX (Associated Press)

WASHINGTON — A recent poll indicates that Americans are more worried about legal immigrants committing crimes in the U.S. compared to a few years ago. This change is mainly due to increased concern among Republicans, while Democrats continue to see various benefits of immigration.

The poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research reveals that many U.S. adults believe that immigrants contribute to the country’s economic growth and enrich American culture. However, when it comes to legal immigrants, U.S. adults now perceive fewer major benefits and more major risks than in the past.

About 40% of Americans believe that when immigrants come to the U.S. legally, it's a significant benefit for American companies to gain the expertise of skilled workers in fields like science and technology. A similar percentage (38%) also believe that legal immigrants significantly benefit by enriching American culture and values.

Both of these figures have decreased compared to 2017, when 59% of Americans considered skilled immigrant workers who enter the country legally a major benefit, and half said legal immigrants contribute a major benefit by enriching American culture.

Meanwhile, the proportion of Americans who think that there’s a major risk of legal immigrants committing crimes in the U.S. has increased, from 19% in 2017 to 32% in the new poll.

Republicans were more likely than Democrats to consider immigration an important issue for them personally, and 41% now believe it’s a major risk that legal immigrants will commit crimes in the U.S., up from 20% in 2017. Overall, Republicans are more likely to see major risks — and fewer benefits — from immigrants who enter the country legally and illegally, although they tend to be most concerned about people who come to the country illegally.

Bob Saunders, a 64-year-old independent from Voorhees, New Jersey, disapproves of President Joe Biden’s handling of immigration and border security and is particularly concerned about the number of immigrants arriving at the southern border who are eventually released into the country. He emphasized the distinction between legal and illegal immigration, stressing the importance of knowing the background of the immigrants arriving in the U.S., and highlighting the economic contributions of legal immigration. He also mentioned the presence of immigrants in his own family.

Bob Saunders, a 64-year-old independent from Voorhees, New Jersey, disapproves of President Joe Biden’s handling of immigration and border security and is particularly concerned about the number of immigrants arriving at the southern border who are eventually released into the country. He emphasized the distinction between legal and illegal immigration, stressing the importance of knowing the background of the immigrants arriving in the U.S., and highlighting the economic contributions of legal immigration. He also mentioned the presence of immigrants in his own family.

Many Republicans, 71%, believe there is a risk of people who are in the country illegally coming to the U.S. and committing crimes, although many studies have found that immigrants are less likely to commit violent crimes than native-born citizens. Furthermore, 80% think there's a major risk that people in the country without permission will burden public service programs, while about 60% are concerned about a major risk of them taking American jobs, weakening American identity through population growth, or illegally influencing elections — even though only a small number of noncitizen voters have been discovered.

Amber Pierce, a 43-year-old Republican from Milam, Texas, says she knows that many migrants want a better life for their children, but she also worries they will strain government services.

“I think a lot of them come here and receive free health care, taking away from those who are citizens and have worked here,” Pierce said. “They get a free ride. I don’t think that’s fair.”

Democrats are more likely to see advantages in immigration, though the poll found that only half of Democrats now believe that legal immigrants are making important contributions to American companies, a decrease of over 20 percentage points since 2017. However, they are more likely than Republicans to say that the ability of people to come from other places in the world to escape violence or find economic opportunities is extremely or very important to the U.S’s identity as a nation.

“People who are coming, are coming for good reason. It’s how many of us got here,” said Amy Wozniak, a Democrat from Greenwood, Indiana. Wozniak noted that previous waves of immigrants came from European countries. Now immigrants are coming from different countries, but that doesn’t mean they’re not fleeing for justifiable reasons, she said: “They’re not all drugs and thugs.”

There’s also a divide among partisans about the value of diversity, with 83% of Democrats saying that the country’s diverse population makes it at least moderately stronger, compared with 43% of Republicans and Independents. Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say that a shared American culture and set of values is extremely or very important to the United States’ identity as a nation, although about half of Democrats also see this as important.

U.S. adults — and especially Republicans — are more likely to say that the country has been significantly changed by immigrants in the past five years than they are to say that immigrants have changed their own community or their state. About 3 in 10 U.S. adults say immigrants have had a major impact on their local community while about 6 in 10 say they’ve had a major impact on the country as a whole. The gap between perceptions of community impact and effects on the country as a whole is particularly wide among Republicans.

There is some bipartisan agreement about how immigration at the border between the U.S. and Mexico should be addressed. The most popular choice is hiring more Border Patrol agents, which is supported by about 8 in 10 Republicans and about half of Democrats. Hiring more immigration judges and court personnel is also favored by majorities of both parties.

About half of Americans support reducing the number of immigrants who are allowed to seek asylum in the U.S. when they arrive at the border, but there’s a much bigger partisan divide there, with more Republicans than Democrats favoring this strategy. Building a wall — former President Donald Trump’s signature policy goal — is the least popular and most polarizing option of the four asked about. About 4 in 10 favor building a wall, including 77% of Republicans but just 12% of Democrats.

Donna Lyon, a Democratic-leaning independent from Cortland, New York, thinks that a border wall wouldn't do much to stop migrants. However, she does support the idea of hiring more Border Patrol agents and additional immigration court judges to handle the increasing backlog of immigration cases. She believes that this would help eliminate the current backlog.

Congress has recently approved funding to recruit approximately 2,000 more Border Patrol agents. However, there hasn't been a significant increase in funding for more immigration judges this year. Many from both political parties have mentioned that it takes too long to make decisions on asylum cases, resulting in migrants staying in the country for years awaiting a decision. Despite this, the parties have not been able to agree on how to address the problem.

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A survey of 1,282 adults was conducted from March 21-25, 2024, using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is intended to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.

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