Yesterday, I noted that a new push by the National Association of Evangelicals in support of comprehensive immigration reform faces a key obstacle: opposition from the grassroots. I cited a 2006 poll by the Pew Research Center that found deeper misgivings about immigration among white evangelicals than among other religious groups.
But Robert Jones of Public Religion Research Institute sent me a more recent poll that his organization conducted in March of this year. That one offers a bit more nuanced portrait of white evangelical sentiment. On the one hand, the survey mirrored Pew's findings on attitudes toward immigration. Fifty-four percent of white evangelicals said immigrants were a burden on the country because they took away American jobs, housing, and health care (though this was 10 points less than the Pew results in 2006, Jones notes). Only 32 percent said immigrants strengthened the country because of their hard work and talents. The general population was evenly split on these questions, 45 percent versus 44 percent.
That said, when it came to choosing the appropriate policy response to the immigration problem, 60 percent of white evangelicals supported comprehensive reform that included a path to citizenship, compared with 31 percent who preferred an enforcement-only approach. That was almost identical to the findings for the general population. Like other religious groups, white evangelicals thought immigration policy should be guided by four principles: enforcing the rule of law and promoting national security (89 percent), ensuring fairness to taxpayers (85 percent), protecting the dignity of every person (79 percent), and keeping families together (78 percent).
In this respect, the gap between evangelical leaders and the pews isn't nearly as pronounced. And these findings also illustrate the sort of arguments that may work for the still unpersuaded: an emphasis on securing the borders, cracking down on law-breaking employers, bringing illegal immigrants out of the shadows so they pay their taxes in full, and reuniting families.