One of 6 Americans say that immigration issues now rank as the nation’s most pressing problem, a tripling in just one month, according to a Gallup poll released Wednesday.
That jump — from 5 percent last month to 17 percent — appears striking, but perhaps just as surprising is that the poll shows that, despite the large volume of publicity over the border situation, the overwhelming majority of Americans say they are focusing more on other problems, including dissatisfaction with government and economic issues.
Perhaps less surprising is that two other polls, by the Pew Research Center and for The Washington Post-ABC News, give President Obama low marks for how he handled the crisis at the border. Congressional Republicans fare even worse.
By the time national media learned that 57,000 unaccompanied children had illegally entered the United States from Central America just since October, with tens of thousands more expected shortly, the exodus had been under way for months and was labeled a humanitarian crisis by the president.
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How to deal with children and where to put them has set off demonstrations from Murrieta, Calif., to Oracle, Ariz., to Vassar, Mich., with seemingly unending cable-television images of angry white people shouting at buses of children to go away or loudly decrying a national policy at local meetings.
Counter-demonstrators, supporting the children, were also caught on tape creating a cable loop of discontent.
Officials, such as Nebraska’s Gov. Dave Heineman, a Republican, complained that the federal government was deliberately avoiding telling anyone when it was moving immigrants into their states in the hope of damping protests. Local officials from Texas to Maryland said they were worried about who would pay to house, feed and educate these children.
The issue of how to treat the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States is a separate longstanding matter, they were joined in the public mind by the protesters who used the same arguments on both sides. Last month, the president acknowledged that efforts at comprehensive immigration reform were dead and he blamed Republicans in the House of Representatives for killing any hope of change.
The Gallup poll is based on telephone interviews July 7 to July 10 with a random sample of 1,013 adults. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.
The Pew poll found a comparable number, with 56 percent saying they disapproved of how Obama was handling the crisis at the border while just 28 percent of those surveyed approved.
On immigration issues, 53 percent said they supported an accelerated legal process for judging the Central American children’s claims for asylum. The public continued to support an overhaul of the immigration system, but support for a path to legal status slipped to 68 percent from 73 percent in February, according to Pew.