One of six 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 Barack Obama low marks for how he handled the crisis at the border. Congressional Republicans fare even worse.
The fights over immigration issues have turned the last few months into a seemingly never-ending season of discontent.
At that point the 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. By then, the exodus had been under way for months and was labeled a humanitarian crisis by the president. Yet advocacy groups and officials, including the governor of Texas, had sounded the alarm in 2012.
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 media 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.
There also was the issue of how to treat the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. Although the issues are separate, 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. There is a clear tie between news coverage of an issue and how it ranks.
According to the latest Gallup poll, immigration moved up in people’s minds to 17 percent from just 5 percent in June and 3 percent in January. The last time immigration reached 10 percent was in 2010 when a Draconian Arizona law was being debated. Before that, immigration increased twice in 2006 to 15 percent or more amid congressional debate over immigration reform.