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National and State-Level Surveys of Americans of Faith and Their Views on Immigration Reform

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A March 2010 survey [1] from the Public Religion Research Institute finds broad support across religious groups for a comprehensive approach to immigration reform.  This is consistent with the calls for reform from religious leadership and clergy among a wide array of faith traditions.  Read on for a summary of the survey’s findings. 


  • Nationally, 56% of Americans of faith say that the immigration system is largely or completely broken.
  • 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).
  • Sixty-eight percent of participants surveyed said that it is an “extremely serious” or “very serious” problem that “the immigration system has no practical way of dealing with all the illegal immigrants who are already here.”  Only 8% of respondents called the problem “not too serious” or “not at all serious.”
  • More than 6–‐in–‐10 Americans (62%) also say it is a very or extremely serious problem that the immigration system allows dishonest employers to undercut American jobs by hiring illegal immigrants.

Comprehensive immigration reform is more popular than mass deportation by a 2:1 margin  

  • Nearly 9–‐in–‐10 (86%) Americans favor (6–‐in–‐10 strongly favor) a policy that includes one of the key provisions of comprehensive immigration reform—that illegal immigrants be required to register with the government, work, pay taxes, and learn English before having the opportunity to apply for citizenship.
  • Support remains strong across political party lines and all religious traditions. Religiously affiliated Americans are more likely to strongly favor reform than those who are unaffiliated.
  • When presented with a pair of statements about what we could do to reform immigration, 65% of respondents across all faith traditions said that a practical solution to illegal immigration was “to require all illegal immigrants to register with the government and meet certain requirements including working, paying taxes and learning English before having the opportunity to apply for citizenship.”  
  • Only 30% said that undocumented immigrants “should not be allowed to become citizens and compete with jobs that are already hard to come by” and should instead be sent back to their home countries


  • A majority of voters –56%– disagree with the statement that “we should make a serious effort to deport all illegal immigrants back to their home country.”

Support for comprehensive reform is high across all denominations

  • Ninety-two percent of Catholics said that they “strongly favor” or “favor” the comprehensive reform proposal outlined above, with 62% saying “strongly favor.”
  • Among white Evangelicals, 89% “strongly favor” or “favor” comprehensive reform, with 66% selecting “strongly favor.”
  • Sixty percent of white mainline Protestants “strongly favor” comprehensive reform, and the combined population of white mainline Protestants who said they “strongly favor” or “favor” the proposal was 86%.


  • Religious Americans are comfortable with their clergy leader talking about the issue of immigration in a variety of settings. A majority of the religiously affiliated say they would be very (25%) or somewhat (29%) comfortable with their clergy speaking about the issue of immigration from the pulpit.
  • Six–‐in–‐ten say they would be very or somewhat comfortable with their clergy discussing the issue in the congregation’s newsletter or website. Even larger majorities say they would be comfortable with their clergy talking about the issue in an adult education session (74%) or at a local community meeting (77%) or in the local media (75%).

[1] March 5-11, 2010 poll includes three independent representative samples of the general public: 1,201 national, 402 in Ohio and 402 in Arkansas for a total of 2.005.  Each sample identified a subset of voters: 1,047 national, 345 in Ohio and 343 in Arkansas. The margin of error for the U.S. general public sample is +/- 3% and +/- 3.3% for the national voters sample.  The margin of error for the state samples is +/- 5.5%.