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Editorial: Fewer see immigrants as a threat to U.S.

Updated: November 17, 2012 6:08AM

It turns out immigrants to the U.S. aren’t so bad after all.

After a nearly two-decade stretch when the majority of Americans considered a large influx of immigrants and refugees a “critical threat” to the United States, just 40 percent of Americans now view them that way.

In a land that was built by immigrants, or so everyone likes to brag, that’s called progress.

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs has been surveying Americans since 1994, covering issues such as terrorism, foreign-policy goals and immigration.

In 1994, 72 percent of those surveyed cited immigrants as a critical threat. It dropped to 40 percent this year.

Similarly, the percentage that consider “controlling and reducing illegal immigration a very important foreign policy goal” dropped from 72 percent to 53 percent.

Both stats saw an uptick after the Sept. 11 attacks, but the 2012 numbers are below pre-attack levels.

The council found that many threats have lessened, including terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, but the immigration decline was most dramatic.

This comes at a time when net migration from Mexico to the U.S. has stopped, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. But many Americans aren’t aware of that. In a related survey of Midwesterners by the Council, 59 percent thought illegal immigration had increased in the last year. Just 16 percent knew it had decreased.

So what accounts for the change, which is driven by Democrats and independents? Americans may be more worried about holding on to their homes than keeping immigrants out. And, the farther we are from Sept. 11, the safer Americans likely feel.

And, perhaps, Americans may be more open to the value of immigrants.

“The more people know about the reality of immigration, the more open they are to immigration reform and finding ways to include immigrants in a path forward,” said Rachel Bronson, vice president of studies at the council. “It seems like something is easing now, and there may be room for improving a broken immigration system.”

Public opinion appears to be changing. Is there a chance our politicians will follow suit?

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