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Fact-checking Facebook post about polling on legal immigration
If Your Time is short
The U.S. grants lawful permanent resident status to about 1 million people each year.
A January 2018 Harvard-Harris poll found that 63% of respondents wanted legal immigration of no more than 499,999 a year. They were not asked whether they favored a reduction or increase.
Other polling on legal immigration has found broad support for keeping legal immigration at current levels or increasing it.
A Facebook post from a group that favors strict immigration policies claimed that nearly 2 out of 3 Americans want to significantly cut the number of people who legally migrate to the United States every year.
"Nearly 2 out of 3 Americans want to reduce legal immigration from 1 million per year down to 500,000 or less," said the Sept. 13 Facebook post from NumbersUSA. The post cites as its source a January 2018 poll from the Center for American Political Studies at Harvard and The Harris Poll.
The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
In the January 2018 poll, nearly two-thirds of Americans said the country should legally admit fewer than 500,000 immigrants each year. The poll question did not ask specifically whether respondents favored an increase or decrease, or provide the current number of immigrants who receive lawful permanent resident status.
In another poll, when people were asked if the country should admit fewer, the same or more immigrants, more than 70% said the system should stay the same or be expanded. That poll question similarly did not mention how many immigrants are given a green card per year.
The number of people granted lawful permanent residence (a green card) annually hasn’t changed significantly under President Donald Trump, according to the latest data released by the Department of Homeland Security. That number remains around 1 million. It includes people who are newly arriving in the United States and those who have been in the country for some time and are changing their immigration status.
Trump has advocated for lower levels of legal immigration and has reduced the number of refugees allowed into the country per year. But he has been less successful in his efforts to eliminate the visa lottery program and to change the legal immigration system so that it favors people with college degrees instead of family members of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents.
The Harvard-Harris online survey was done Jan. 13-16, 2018, among 1,962 registered voters in the United States. The polling group said that a second flash poll — on taxes and immigration — was done Jan. 17-19 among 980 registered voters.
Overall, the pollsters found that most voters support some level of legal immigration, but tended to prefer levels that are below current levels. One of the questions said: "In your opinion, about how many legal immigrants should be admitted to the U.S. each year?" The respondents could choose among several ranges, but the question didn’t mention how many people are currently admitted through the legal immigration system and did not directly ask respondents whether they favored an increase or decrease.
A combined 63% supported admitting no more than 499,999 immigrants legally into the country each year. That’s nearly 2 out of 3.
Here’s a breakdown:
RELATED: Donald Trump’s immigration promises: failures and achievements
Other polling groups, including Gallup and the General Social Survey, have also polled voters about immigration levels, with questions that are phrased differently from the January 2018 Harvard-Harris poll.
Gallup in June 2018 asked: "Thinking now about immigrants — that is, people who come from other countries to live here in the United States, in your view, should LEGAL immigration be kept at its present level, increased or decreased?" A quarter said it should decrease, 34% said it should increase, 38% said it should stay at present level, and 3% had no opinion.
A late 2018 survey from the Public Religion Research Institute said that Americans were divided on restrictions on legal immigration. A slim majority of Americans, 51%, favored passing a law that placed stricter limits on the number of immigrants legally coming to the U.S., while nearly 47% opposed such a law, the survey found.
In a poll this year, Gallup asked: "Thinking now about immigrants — that is, people who come from other countries to live here in the United States — in your view, should immigration be kept at its present level, increased or decreased?" In that poll, 28% said immigration should be decreased, 34% said it should be increased, 36% said it should stay at the present level, and 3% had no opinion. The question did not specify whether it was about legal immigration, as the previous Gallup question did, and it did not ask respondents to specify the number of immigrants to be admitted, as did the Harvard-Harris poll.
The Harvard-Harris poll and the other polls are essentially asking about the same topic, but asking in two completely different ways, Chris Chmielenski, deputy director at NumbersUSA, told PolitiFact.
Chmielenski said he thinks most people probably don’t realize that about 1 million people a year get green cards. If that fact and similar context were included in polling questions, he argued, then more people would say they want to reduce legal immigration.
A NumbersUSA Facebook post said, "Nearly 2 out of 3 Americans want to reduce legal immigration from 1 million per year down to 500,000 or less."
In a January 2018 poll, nearly two-thirds of Americans said the country should legally admit fewer than 500,000 immigrants each year. The poll question did not point out that 1 million people get green cards each year, or ask respondents specifically whether they favored a reduction or increase. So the NumbersUSA’s claim about Americans wanting to reduce legal immigration is a stretch from the poll's phrasing.
Other polls have found broader public support — as much as 72% — for keeping immigration levels the same or increasing them.
The Facebook post is partially accurate but leaves out important details or takes things out of context. We rate it Half True.
NumbersUSA Facebook post, Sept. 13, 2020
Phone interview, Chris Chmielenski, deputy director at NumbersUSA, Sept. 21, 2020
Gallup polling on immigration
PRRI.org, Partisan Polarization Dominates Trump Era: Findings from the 2018 American Values Survey, Oct. 29, 2018
AP, Poll: More Americans want immigration to stay the same, March 20, 2019
Harvard-Harris poll, January 2018
Department of Homeland Security, Table 1. Persons Obtaining Lawful Permanent Resident Status: Fiscal Years 1820 to 2018
PolitiFact, Arkansas senator says of 1 million green cards issued, few are employment-based, Feb. 14, 2017; Donald Trump leaves out the facts in claim about visa lottery, Jan. 30, 2018
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Fact-checking Facebook post about polling on legal immigration
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