In blocking Central American caravans from entering the United States, Pres. Trump appears to be pursuing a popular solution, according to a national survey of Americans who voted in the midterm congressional elections.
The poll taken in the days after the election found most voters (58%) preferring that the caravan be stopped before its members cross the U.S. border from Mexico.
Of the 36% of voters who said the best option is to let the caravan members apply for asylum inside the United States, half (18%) preferred that the migrants be detained until they are granted asylum.
Only 18% of midterm voters supported the most common government practice of recent years, which has been to release migrants to move freely around the United States until their asylum hearings.
The national survey of 1,000 Americans who said they voted in the midterm election was commissioned by NumbersUSA Education & Research Foundation and was conducted by Pulse Opinion Research on Nov. 7-8.
A second survey that same week of the election found that the preference for keeping the caravan out of the U.S. unless people are actually granted asylum was even stronger among those who voted in 31 congressional districts that Real Clear Politics had rated as "toss up" races a week earlier.
Among voters who decided the "toss up" races that helped give Democrats control of the House, 61% wanted the caravan stopped before the U.S. border (31% said stop all from entering, while 30% said require asylum seekers to remain in Mexico until their application is decided).
The survey told voters:
As you know, caravans of several thousand Central Americans are moving toward our southern border to apply for asylum in the United States."
Voters were then asked to choose from among four options for how the U.S. government should handle the people attempting to enter the country.
Here were the responses in the national survey:
26% chose Option 1: Stop all of them (caravan members) from entering the country.
32% chose Option 2: Require them to remain in Mexico until their asylum applications have been decided.
18% chose Option 3: Let them enter the United States but detain them until their asylum applications have been decided.
18% chose Option 4: Allow them to move freely around the country until their asylum hearing at some future time.
5% chose "Unsure."
Pres. Trump has encouraged Mexico to help with Option 1 by either providing asylum in Mexico or deporting people back to their home countries. Part of the argument for not allowing any of the Central Americans to gain asylum in the U.S. is that once they are in Mexico (officially considered a "safe" country), they are no longer in need of asylum. People truly fleeing persecution by their government should seek asylum in an adjacent safe country, not choose some distant country because of a desire to make more money.
Option 2 was the subject of much news coverage over the weekend of a possible agreement between the Trump administration and Mexico's president-elect to allow U.S. asylum hearings to occur in Mexico so that only those who pass a threshold are allowed into the U.S.
Pres. Trump has had difficulties pursuing Option 3 (detention in the U.S.) because of rulings by lower federal courts and the lack of detention space. Congress could fix both these issues through legislation.
Support for Option 4 (the status quo of what sometimes is called "catch and release" into the general population) was low among all demographic groups, reaching a high of only 30% among Democratic voters. Support for the status quo was 17% for Independents and 6% for Republicans.
Differences among other demographic categories were relatively small in terms of voters' support for Option 4, the status quo of releasing asylum applicants into the United States to await their hearings:
RACE: White (17%), Black (22%), Hispanic (22%), Other (14%)
EDUCATION: College degree (21%), No degree (14%)
RELIGION: Evangelical (11%), Protestant (22%), Catholic (14%), Other (23%)
LOCATION: Major city (23%), Suburb (15%), Small city/town/rural (18%)
INCOME: Under $100,000/year (16%), $100,000+ (24%)
Clearly, the status quo of "catch and release" is not the popular option, and the Trump administration has been on the side of most voters of every demographic in trying to implement a different policy.
But faced with the refusal of Congress to close asylum loopholes and with court rulings blocking other options for handling the masses of would-be asylum applicants inside our country, the administration is now resorting to keeping most members of the caravans from entering our country at all. And that apparently is what most Americans want.
ROY BECK is Founder & President of NumbersUSA
Updated: Tue, Dec 11th 2018 @ 10:20am EST