PPIC Polling and the Immigration Debate

Mark Baldassare
President of the Public Policy Institute of California

One of the most important issues for Californians in the first year of the Trump administration is changing federal immigration policy. Immigrants are a significant presence in California, and even more so in Los Angeles County. Los Angeles, the state’s most populous county, is home to more than 10 million people, including more immigrants than any other California county. Twenty-seven percent of California’s population is foreign born—about twice the US percentage—while 35% of Los Angeles County population is foreign born. Moreover, about 2.6 million undocumented immigrants—about a quarter of the total number in the US—live in California. More than 800,000 of these undocumented immigrants live in Los Angeles. Major shifts in federal immigration policy that are under way thus have profound impacts on California and Los Angeles.

Since January, PPIC has been monitoring state and local responses to changing federal immigration policy through our public opinion polling. We have asked 11 questions about federal immigration policy in four monthly surveys, each involving 1,700 California adults, including more than 400 adults from Los Angeles County, interviewed by landline and cellphone in English or Spanish. The margin of error is +/-3% for California and +/-6% for Los Angeles. While the country is politically divided on immigration issues, we have found some bipartisan agreement in California. Here’s a sampling of our findings this year:

  • Undocumented immigrants living in the US:In our January PPIC Statewide Survey, 85% of Californians and 89% of Los Angeles residents agreed that undocumented immigrants who are living in the US should be allowed to stay legally. These results are consistent with earlier PPIC surveys. Moreover, solid majorities were in favor of state and local governments making their own policies and taking actions, separate from the federal government, to protect the legal rights of undocumented immigrants in California (65% California, 73% Los Angeles).
  • Border wall, travel ban on residents of six Muslim-majority nations:In our March PPIC survey, when asked about building a wall along the entire Mexico border, more than 7 in 10 were opposed (72% Californians, 76% Los Angeles). In the same survey, about 6 in 10 (58% California, 63% Los Angeles) opposed the president’s revised travel ban involving six Muslim countries.
  • Immigration enforcement and schools: In our April survey, 46% of Californians and 55% of Los Angeles residents said they are very concerned that increased federal immigration enforcement efforts will impact undocumented students and their families in their local public school districts. More than 6 in 10 (65% Californians, 73% Los Angeles) favored having their local public school district designated as a sanctuary safe zone in order to protect its undocumented students and their families from federal immigration enforcement efforts.
  • Worries about deportation, impact of enforcement on business and jobs:In our May PPIC survey, 30% of Californians and 34% of Los Angeles residents said they worry a lot that someone they know could be deported as a result of increased federal immigration enforcement. About half said that increased federal immigration enforcement will have a negative impact on businesses, jobs, and the economy in their part of California (49% California, 53% Los Angeles).

As the federal policy landscape shifted this year, PPIC Statewide Surveys continued to find majority support for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who are living in the US: in our March survey, 68% of Californians and 71% of Los Angeles residents remained supportive. In contrast to the political divide in the rest of the nation, strong majorities across parties in California continue to agree that undocumented immigrants who are living in the US should be allowed to stay legally.

California’s path forward on immigration is a work in progress, as is the case in other areas that are undergoing federal and state policy changes. Moreover, there are uncertainties about federal actions such as the fate of the DACA program—which protects young undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children from deportation—the imposition of fiscal sanctions on sanctuary states and cities, the ban on travel from Muslim countries, and the construction of a wall along the US-Mexico border. As we have seen, California’s immigration policymaking is occurring in the context of strong public opposition to federal shifts, high levels of public concern about how these shifts are affecting undocumented immigrants and our regional economies, and strong support for actions by state and local governments to protect the legal rights of undocumented immigrants. At PPIC, we hope to foster conversations about immigration that lead to a better future for all Californians.

This post is excerpted from a presentation to the PPIC Board of Directors and guests on September 12, 2017, in Los Angeles.

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