Distinct Views on the Proverbial Melting Pot

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Public attitudes on the issue of immigration. Immigration may have made the United States what it is, but history suggests that Americans have always been ambivalent on the issue. Currently, the subject ranks fairly low as a priority in opinion surveys. The public, in general, appears to be more concerned about illegal immigrants than legal ones; Americans hold both positive and negative attitudes about immigration.

However, looking at any single finding by itself could be misleading. There is, surprisingly, little difference between U.S.-born and foreign-born Americans on certain key attitudes. A 1998 Public Agenda survey found that both U.S.-born and foreign-born parents say most immigrants intend to become loyal citizens. Both groups define "bad citizens" as those who live on welfare even though they could work, are prejudiced against people of different ethnic backgrounds, or who refuse to learn English.

Lower-income, less-educated folks, however, are more likely to say immigrants are a burden to the country and take jobs away from Americans than upper-income, better-educated people.

For example, a Princeton Survey Research/Pew poll conducted last year found that 46 percent of those making less than $20,000 per year considered immigrants a burden, compared with only 21 percent of those making more than $75,000 per year.

Fifty-four percent of college graduates told Gallup poll takers in September that immigrants become productive citizens in the long run, compared with 40 percent of those with a high school education or less. Those with a lower income and less education generally feel more insecure economically and thus, may feel more threatened by job competition with immigrants than other groups. Interestingly, these results mirror surveys about the global economy in which higher-income, better-educated people are more likely to support free trade and globalization.

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