Keep your field glasses up! Concern about securing America’s southern border, stopping the gush of 100,000 illegal entrants per month, is now a leading worry for Americans, according to a Harvard-Harris poll taken in April of 1,536 registered voters. Surprises in the poll are worth teasing out.
First, of 21 issues – from economy to national security, race to environment – immigration ranks number two, only behind health. Fully 39 percent of Americans call illegal immigration the nation’s top concern in 2019.
Second, 56 percent of Americans see this issue as a “humanitarian and security crisis,” not a “manufactured” or “political” crisis.
Third, the concern is likely to accelerate – since more than 75 percent of Americans still underestimate the number of illegal entrants monthly. When informed the number tops 100,000, more than half favored President Trump’s emergency declaration.
Fourth, putting aside labels, 55 percent of Americans believe “border barriers” are effective. More eye-popping, two-thirds of Americans – political party notwithstanding – believe “people with questionable asylum claims … should … immediately be turned back to Mexico for staging.”
Against this backdrop, understanding demographics around the border issue become important. In early 2019, a non-partisan Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) survey found that “building the wall” divides Americans along generational lines, as well as political.
While Republicans strongly favor and Democrats strongly disfavor President Trump’s southern border wall, more than 50 percent of those over 65 favor the wall, twice as many as those aged 18-29, and a third more than those between 30 and 49. Those aged 50 to 64 are roughly divided, with party affiliation strongly affecting their position.
One big question is why older Americans are more inclined to be concerned about border security. Today, a larger percentage of this age cohort supports the president’s wall. One reason may be the percentage of veterans among older Americans, and their historic view that security, sovereignty and borders matter.
On the veteran side, the Pew Foundation reports that “the share of veterans ages 50 to 69 is expected to shrink from 39 percent to 33 percent” between now and 2045, but today World War II, Korean and Vietnam War veterans are influential in their respective generations.
Another factor may be bold patriotism among older Americans, which translates into stronger defense for national security, traditional American values, assimilation, citizenship and border protection.
Another Pew survey says, just 18 percent of Millennials believe the U.S. is the greatest country in the world. More than twice that number of America’s “Silent Generation” – fully 46 percent – rank America “the greatest country in the world.” Among “Boomers,” 34 percent hold the view.
With older Americans more concerned about the border, supportive of the wall, heavily populated by patriots and veterans, is there room for movement on immigration? Perhaps yes.
If vocal Democrats would shed rampant anti-Trump emotional reactions for genuine policy discussion and vocal Republicans would entertain the horse trade – closing our southern border might be paired with a way toward citizenship for 800,000 children brought to America illegally, the so-called DACA children.
Interestingly, the 2019 Harvard-Harris poll says the number one issue for registered Democrats – above economy – is “addressing the status of undocumented immigrants,” especially “DACA children.”
Of eleven issues on which Democrats were polled, this ranked number one. It was 30 percent higher than impeaching President Trump, more than twice as high as climate change or infrastructure, and eight times as high as trade or family leave.
So, addressing immigration matters for Democrats – as border security matters for eight in ten Republicans, especially older Americans. Can focus be found for those who see immigration through such different lenses? Maybe, maybe not. If the Democratic aim is to spike votes in key states with illegal immigrants, solutions are out. But if there is common ground, who knows?
If anti-Trump emotion were turned down, older Americans heard, and reason prevailed, an obvious answer would be robust border security – wall extension, reliable surveillance, credible deterrence and well-funded law enforcement – with a guarantee of some way forward to accommodate the roughly 800,000 for “DACA children.” In a nation of 350 million, we could probably do that.
For now, do not expect it. Whatever polls of older Americans reveal, House Democratic leadership seems dead-set against more border security, wall extension and wider law enforcement. Neither concern for the DACA children nor President’s Trump’s new immigration initiative have moved the Democratic Party needle.
Concern over America’s southern border is growing among Americans – especially older Americans – but so far, no sign of action from Congress. Keep your field glasses up!