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NPR/Ipsos Poll: Americans Support Limiting Immigration To Slow Coronavirus Spread

STACEY VANEK SMITH, HOST:

Most Americans support stopping immigrants from coming to the U.S. as long as it's in the name of slowing the spread of COVID-19. That's one of the major findings of a new NPR/Ipsos poll. But it also found that President Trump's anti-immigration rhetoric has not done much to change public opinion on other policies, like his border wall. Joining me now with the details is NPR's Joel Rose.

Hi, Joel.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Hey, Stacey.

VANEK SMITH: Tell us more about this poll.

ROSE: Well, if you look at the poll results, it's clear that people believe the situation with coronavirus is dire. Two-thirds think the U.S. has handled the crisis worse than other countries, and they want dramatic, aggressive action from the top down. There is broad support for requiring masks and also for schools to reopen online instead of in-person. And what really surprised us is that more than half of people would support a nationwide order mandating that people stay at home for two weeks.

VANEK SMITH: Wow. Joel, you cover immigration here at NPR, and this poll also asked people for their views on immigration. What did it find?

ROSE: Well, we found broad support for temporary limits on immigration during the pandemic. For example, more than three-quarters of people who responded to this poll, including Democrats and Republicans, support closing the border to nonessential travel. We also found a majority of people are in favor of temporary restrictions on legal immigration, including guest workers and asylum seekers and refugees, although that was largely driven by Republicans, people like Tammy Bunce of Queen Creek, Ariz.

TAMMY BUNCE: I feel like we need to take care of America first. I think we should be staying at home, and I think other countries should not be coming in until we have the coronavirus under control.

VANEK SMITH: I mean, right there, Tammy Bunce is talking about, obviously, the immediate future of the situation we're in. What did the poll results show us about people's thinking about immigration in the long run?

ROSE: Well, on that front, it seems like people's views on immigration are remarkably stable. We asked some of the same questions about immigration in this poll that we asked in another poll two years ago, and we found that people's feelings have actually not changed very much at all. Mallory Newall is the public affairs director at Ipsos, which conducted both polls.

MALLORY NEWALL: Americans do want to take steps to limit immigration right now, but that's not because their views on immigration have changed. It's because they want to do everything in their power to contain the spread of COVID-19.

ROSE: Just like two years ago when we asked these questions, about 70% of people say immigrants are, quote, "an important part of American identity." But the public is still deeply divided on other contentious policies. One of them is building President Trump's wall across the southern border. Another one is giving legal status to immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children, who are often called DREAMers. Republicans overwhelmingly side with Trump on those issues. Democrats do not. I talked to another poll respondent, a woman from Houston, Texas. Her name is Jo Lee. She usually votes Democratic, and she supports some restrictions on immigration during coronavirus, but she does not want them to become permanent.

JO LEE: I get right now that we've got this pandemic going on. That's fine. But once this calms down, if somebody really wants to come over here and raise their family and be a citizen, let them do that. I don't have a problem with that.

VANEK SMITH: Joel, if we take a look at these respondents' views in the context of the election, Trump has made his immigration crackdown a key part of his argument for reelection. How is that resonating with people in the U.S.?

ROSE: Frankly, immigration is no longer a top concern, according to our poll. It has been eclipsed by a host of other issues - coronavirus, obviously, but also racial justice, unemployment, political extremism - and immigration has fallen down the list of top concerns. It was fourth two years ago. Now it doesn't even crack the top 10. So if President Trump was planning to run on immigration, that strategy may not get as much traction as we might have expected just a few short months ago.

VANEK SMITH: NPR's Joel Rose.

Thank you, Joel.

ROSE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.