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In Mexico, President Obama Expresses Optimism for Immigration Reform, But Many Americans Express Bias against Mexican Immigrants

RESEARCH Public Opinion Survey by Dina Smeltz and Craig Kafura
President Obama in front of a world map.

Americans support some variation of immigration reform, but half overstate unauthorized immigration levels to the US, which intensifies bias against Mexican immigrants.

Key Findings

The contentious immigration debate on Capitol Hill resembles partisan divides among the public. Democrats and Independents are more supportive of immigration reform options involving a path to citizenship and express more favorable impressions of Mexicans living in the United States than Republicans.

At the same time, there have been several shifts in public opinion since 2004 that signal public readiness for reform. This includes an increased preference for the United States, rather than Mexico, to take the lead in dealing with undocumented Mexican immigrants entering the United States. There has also been a sharp decline between 1994 and 2012 in the number who say that immigration is a critical threat to the United States.

Just under six in ten Americans have a favorable view of Mexican immigrants in the United States, considerably fewer than those with a favorable view of Brazilian and Chinese immigrants; nine in ten have a positive view of Mexicans living in Mexico.

Those who perceive that illegal immigration flows have either declined or stabilized over the past year have a much more positive image of Mexican immigrants living in the United States as well as immigration reform—underscoring the potential power of accurate information.

About the Authors
Senior Fellow, Public Opinion and Foreign Policy
Headshot for Dina Smeltz
Dina Smeltz, a polling expert, has more than 25 years experience designing and fielding international social and political surveys. Prior to joining the Council to lead its annual survey of American attitudes on US foreign policy, she served in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research at the US State Department's Office of Research from 1992 to 2001.
Headshot for Dina Smeltz
Assistant Director, Public Opinion and Foreign Policy
Council expert Craig Kafura
Craig Kafura is the assistant director for public opinion and foreign policy at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, a Security Fellow with the Truman National Security Project, and a Pacific Forum Young Leader. At the Council, he coordinates work on public opinion and foreign policy and is a regular contributor to the public opinion and foreign policy blog Running Numbers.
Council expert Craig Kafura