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  by  Roy Beck

The moral arguments on immigration that Members of Congress are hearing from Catholic bishops this month are not the ones that most Catholic voters believe are the most important issues in immigration policy, according to polling by Pulse Opinion Research of 4,967 Catholic likely voters in 26 politically competitive states.  

Polling of Catholic voter moral opinions about immigration suggests that Catholic bishops face a tough task in their announced effort this month to persuade parishioners to urge the U.S. House to pass the Senate's immigration bill that would legalize an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants and double the flow of new legal immigration in the first decade.

It isn't that Catholic voters disagree on the importance of morality in immigration policy, but that they believe the highest moral responsibility is protecting vulnerable American workers.

(Read the full text of all questions of the poll, and the methodology, here.)


Catholic voters were three times more likely to say the government has "a lot" of moral responsibility to protect American workers from competition with immigrant workers than to say it has "a lot" of moral responsibility to protect illegal immigrants from being separated from their families by deportation.  

Catholic bishops are asking priests this month  to preach on the moral need to pass the Senate bill to give legal status, lifetime work permits and a path to citizenship to most foreign citizens who are in the country illegally.

But in a compilation of the polls during the Senate debate, Pulse Opinion Research found that few Catholic likely voters agreed in their answer to this question: 

How much moral responsibility do you feel Congress has to help protect the ability of current illegal immigrants to hold a job and support their families without fear of deportation?"

Only 14% of Catholic likely voters answered "a lot."

About one-fourth (27%) answered they feel the government has "some" moral responsibility, while 26% said "very little" and 28% said "none."

Catholic voters had an almost opposite reaction to the next question in the poll: 

How much moral responsibility do you feel Congress has to help protect unemployed or low-wage Americans from having to compete with foreign workers for U.S. jobs?"

Nearly half (48%) said "a lot,"  31% said "some," 12% said "very little" and 7% said "none."

NumbersUSA Education & Research Foundation sponsored the polling.  It is a non-partisan, non-ideological grassroots group that was formed in 1996 to advocate for the lower-immigration recommendations of the bi-partisan, congressional-presidential U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform, chaired by Barbara Jordan. Most of the states that were polled are politically competitive in that they have U.S. Senators from both parties (such as Pennsylvania) or are represented in the Senate by a party that is different from the one that won the state's 2012 Electoral votes (such as Montana). The compilation of polls has a margin of error of 1.4 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence.


On the matter of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the country, the polling found that most Catholics agreed with their bishops about not wanting to deport most of them.

But Catholic voters disagreed with their bishops about giving illegal immigrants work permits to compete directly with the 20 million Americans who want a full-time job but can't find one.

  • One-third (32%) of Catholic voters said the government should deport most of the illegal immigrants.

  • Another third (30%) said the government should "deport only some but ensure the rest take no jobs or taxpayer assistance."

  • 28% of Catholics agreed with the bishops' position that the government should provide most illegal immigrants with "legal status and work permits."


The polls asked Catholics what they felt is the government's most urgent priority in setting immigration policy this year and gave them three choices.

  • The majority (56%) of Catholics said the priority was to "protect unemployed less-educated Americans from competition from foreign workers." 
  • 22% said the priority was to "bring otherwise law-abiding illegal immigrants out of the shadows."
  • 14% said the priority should be "ensuring that employers get the foreign workers they need to keep the economy strong."

Most Catholic voters also disagreed with several other aspects of the  Senate bill that the bishops are promoting:

  • Only 21% agreed with giving work permits to illegal immigrants first before 10 years of "implementing border and workplace enforcement to stop future flows of illegal workers." (68% said all enforcement must be fully implemented before even "considering" giving work permits.)
  • Only 9% agreed with the Senate that the current issuance of around 1 million green cards to immigrants is "too low."
  • Only 22% somewhat or strongly agreed with the argument of many of the Senate advocates of the bill that the "United States is faced with labor shortages and needs more immigrant workers."

Part of the moral concerns and priorities of most Catholic voters can be understood in the fact that two-thirds (67%) of them said they believe that "less educated illegal immigrants compete with less-educated Americans for construction, manufacturing, hospitality and other service jobs." 

On most questions, there was little difference in the answers of Catholics who attend church infrequently and those who attend regularly. 

The greatest variation of opinions was seen among political parties.  For example, 42% of Democratic Catholics favored giving work permits and legal status to illegal immigrants, while 27% of Independents and 16% of Republicans did.  Catholics were  more similar among parties on the issue of needing more immigrant workers, with only 31% of Democrats, 17% of Independents and 18% of Republicans thinking so. 

If Catholic voters resist the political pressure from their bishops, it won't be because the laity refuses to consider the moral issues of immigration but because most of the laity places a higher moral priority on protecting the most vulnerable members of their national community who are unemployed or who struggle because of low wages.  

ROY BECK is Founder & President of NumbersUSA

Vulnerable Americans

Updated: Mon, Oct 2nd 2017 @ 3:05pm EDT

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