Four in 10 Americans reported that they worry “a great deal” about “illegal immigration” in a recent Gallup survey.

Overall, more people expressed a great deal of concern about illegal immigration than has been typical over the last decade. However, a partisan divide exists on the issue.

Since 2006, the number of Democrats who are concerned about illegal immigration has continued to decrease. This year, a new all-time high of 44% of Democrats reported being “not concerned at all” by the issue.

In contrast, Republicans have trended in the opposite direction over the last two decades. Compared to the 2001 survey where 29% of Republicans reported being worried “a great deal” about illegal immigration, that number was 68% in this year’s report.

Regional divides exist as well as partisan ones. People in the South report being worried a great deal at a higher rate (48%) than any other U.S. region.

Good Faith Media reached out to several faith leaders for their response to this report. Here is what they said:

“As Christians, there’s no way to ignore the biblical mandate to care for the stranger in our midst,” said Sue Smith, a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel serving with Latino immigrants in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

“Immigration should be of great concern for each one of us, but not because of the flow of people into our nation or the fear of what we stand to lose. Our concern should be for fixing our broken immigration system, for addressing the enormous backlog of cases, for offering legal and reasonable options for migrants wishing to enter our country,” she said. “The system is becoming more dysfunctional as the nation grows more polarized and the potential for meaningful steps toward immigration reform seems more distant than ever. To truly welcome the stranger, we need to move beyond acts of hospitality and welcome. The crisis isn’t at the border, it’s within our system, and it’s past time for us as a nation to deal with it.”

Stephen Reeves headshotStephen Reeves said, “The recent Gallup polling shows just how partisan the issue of immigration has become. This is unfortunate. I believe that maintaining our tradition as a refuge for the persecuted and a nation of immigrants should be rooted in common values, not partisan ideology.”

“I too am concerned about illegal immigration. We should have secure borders and be able to keep out illegal drugs and human trafficking cartel members. But our current policies, including MPP and Title 42, are prolonging and inflicting needless suffering of desperate neighbors who are themselves often victims of cartel violence,” said Reeves, executive director of Fellowship Southwest, director of advocacy for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and co-author of the book The Mission of Advocacy. “We have the resources to implement a timely and humane system for those seeking asylum or wishing to immigrate here legally, what we lack is the political will.”

Christopher B. Harbin headshotChris Harbin said, “Immigration has often been a political football for partisan voices. Immigrants and other vulnerable peoples have ever been scapegoated for political gain, specifically because they do not have much, if any, of a voice in the political arena. This seems to be an underlying biblical concern of Yahweh in constantly reminding Israel, ‘Remember, you were once slaves in Egypt.’”

“God’s call to us is consistently to view others with empathy and the perspective that the land can flow with milk and honey to meet the needs of all,” said Harbin, a former missionary in Mexico and Brazil who serves now as a provisional elder with the United Methodist Church in Wingate, North Carolina, and is the author of several books, including On Immigration: Surveying Biblical Teaching on Issues of Immigration. “The world of God’s creation is one of abundance to go around, not of scarcity to be scooped up and hoarded in new barns. People of faith can trust God’s sufficiency or scapegoat outsiders out of fear, but we can’t really do both.”

“For decades, the issue of immigration has been used as a wedge issue to frighten U.S. citizens into casting their votes for more conservative politicians. For centuries, the issue of immigration has been a concern of those advocating white supremacy, fearful of some ‘great replacement’ conspiracy advanced by pundits like Tucker Carlson,” said Miguel de la Torre, professor of Social Ethics and Latinx Studies at Iliff School of Theology, and the author of several books, including Decolonizing Christianity.

“So why should we be shocked that U.S. citizens reflect the fear which is being conjured up? Even the usage of the term ‘illegal immigrants’ contributes to this fear, defining immigrants as criminals as opposed to describing them properly as ‘undocumented immigrants.’ They lack documentation just like a driver with an expired license is not called an illegal driver,” he said.

The political divisions within the U.S. are evident in Gallup’s latest immigration poll, as is a more general divergence across all respondents.

While the percentage of people who say they worry “a great deal” about undocumented immigration (41%) is the highest level since 2011, the number who are not worried at all is the highest level (23%) in survey history.

With adults aged 18-34 less likely to see undocumented immigration as a major concern than those 35 and older, only time will tell what course the nation will take in responding to those who come to the U.S. seeking a better, safer life for their family.

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