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Religion, Values, and Immigration Reform Survey

Sponsor: Public Religion Research Institute
Released: 2010-03

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National Survey

Six-in-ten Americans believe that it is somewhat (43%) or very difficult (17%) for immigrants to come to the U.S. legally today. White mainline Protestants and Catholics are significantly more likely than white evangelicals to say the legal immigration process is difficult (65% and 64% to 51% respectively).

At least 8-in-10 Americans from every faith group rated four values as very or extremely important guides to immigration reform: enforcing the rule of law and promoting national security (88%), ensuring fairness to taxpayers (84%), protecting the dignity of every person (82%), and keeping families together (80%)

A strong majority (71%) also say following the Golden Rule—”providing immigrants the same opportunity that I would want if my family were immigrating to the U.S.”—is a very or extremely important value.

Religiously affiliated Americans are more likely to strongly favor reform than those who are unaffiliated. A majority of regular religious service attenders say they would be comfortable with their clergy speaking about immigration from the pulpit, and 6-in-10 say they would be comfortable with clergy discussing the issue in their congregation’s newsletter or website.

Larger majorities of regular religious service attenders would be comfortable with clergy talking about the issue in an adult education session (74%), at a local community meeting (77%), or in the local media (75%).

Ohio and Arkansas Surveys

Residents of Ohio and Arkansas are more likely than Americans nationwide to report being in fair or poor shape economically and to have a negative view of the contributions of immigrants. Arkansas and Ohio residents are also more likely than the general public to believe illegal immigrants take jobs that American workers want – a view held by 58% of Arkansas residents and 56% of Ohioans, but only 48% of Americans generally. In spite of these more negative attitudes, residents of Arkansas and Ohio, like Americans generally, agree on the importance of a set of values—including protecting human dignity and keeping families together—that should guide reform, and residents of both states overwhelmingly support an earned path to citizenship for illegal immigrants

The Ohio focus groups among white moderate voters demonstrated significant differences in attitudes toward immigration between Catholics, whose initial impressions were mostly positive and grounded in their own families’ immigration stories, and Protestants, whose initial impressions of immigrants were more likely to be negative and associated with images like day laborers looking for work at a Home Depot parking lot.

Participants across all groups in Ohio were quick to say that they believed the current immigration system was broken, but they had little concrete knowledge of how it was broken. When participants heard stories about hardships of becoming a citizen, ideas shifted in a more supportive direction.

Nearly all participants in Ohio were wary of hearing about a political issue such as immigration reform from the pulpit, but they were open to clergy leadership in discussion or informational settings. Very few had heard anything about immigration reform at church, and nearly all were unaware of any official position of their denomination on the issue.