Pew and Pulpit Disagree On Immigration

Poll: Pew and Pulpit Disagree on Immigration

Zogby Survey Finds Religious Leaders and Members at Odds
Center For Immigration Studies
Contact: Steven Camarota, (202) 466-8185,
December 29, 2009

WASHINGTON (December 29, 2009) – In contrast to many national religious leaders who are lobbying for increases in immigration, a new Zogby poll of likely voters who belong to the same religious communities finds strong support for reducing overall immigration. Moreover, members strongly disagree with their leaders contention that more immigrant workers need to be allowed into the country.

Also, most parishioners and congregants prefer more enforcement to cause illegal workers to go home, rather than legalization of illegal immigrants, which most religious leaders prefer. The survey of Catholic, mainline Protestant, born-again Protestant, and Jewish voters used neutral language and was one of the largest polls on immigration ever done.

Among the findings:

Most members of religious denominations do not feel that illegal immigration is caused by limits on legal immigration, as many religious leaders do; instead, members feel its due to a lack of enforcement.

Catholics: Just 11 percent said illegal immigration was caused by not letting in enough legal immigrants; 78 percent said it was caused by inadequate enforcement efforts.

Mainline Protestants: 18 percent said not enough legal immigration; 78 percent said inadequate enforcement.

Born-Again Protestants: 9 percent said not enough legal immigration; 85 percent said inadequate enforcement.

Jews: 21 percent said not enough legal immigration; 60 percent said inadequate enforcement.

Unlike religious leaders who argue that more unskilled immigrant workers are needed, most members think there are plenty of Americans to do such work.

Catholics: 12 percent said legal immigration should be increased to fill such jobs; 69 percent said there are plenty of Americans available to do such jobs, employers just need to pay more.

Mainline Protestants: 10 percent said increase immigration; 73 percent said plenty of Americans are available.

Born-Again Protestants: 7 percent said increase immigration; 75 percent said plenty of Americans are available.

Jews: 16 percent said increase immigration; 61 percent said plenty of Americans available.

When asked to choose between enforcement that would cause illegal immigrants to go home over time or a conditional pathway to citizenship, most members choose enforcement.

Catholics: 64 percent support enforcement to encourage illegals to go home; 23 percent support conditional legalization.

Mainline Protestants: 64 percent support enforcement; 24 percent support legalization.

Born-Again Protestants: 76 percent support enforcement; 12 percent support legalization.

Jews: 43 percent support enforcement; 40 percent support legalization.

In contrast to many religious leaders, most members think immigration is too high.

Catholics: 69 percent said immigration is too high; 4 percent said too low; 14 percent just right.

Mainline Protestants: 72 percent said too high; 2 percent said too low; 11 percent just right.

Born-Again Protestants: 78 percent too high; 3 percent said too low; 9 percent just right.

Jews: 50 percent said it is too high; 5 percent said too low; 22 percent just right.


Most major denominations agree that illegal immigrants must be treated humanely. But the leadership often goes much further and takes the position that illegal immigration is caused, at least in part, by not letting in enough legal immigrants.

They then call for increases in the number of workers and family members allowed into the country. For example, early this year, the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) issued a resolution stating that, Due to the limited number of visas, millions have entered the United States without proper documentation.

The NAE then calls for increases in the number of immigrant workers allowed in. The Catholic Church states that the law must be reformed so that more laborers from other countries can enter the country legally.

The Episcopal Church adopted a resolution in July of this year stating that, Immigrants are filling the jobs that go unwanted and unfilled by U.S. citizens. The resolution makes clear more immigrant workers need to be allowed in legally.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in November 2009 adopted a document that states illegal immigrants do jobs that citizens often will not do and that legal immigration should be increased to meet, the annual need for foreign workers.

A Commission of the Union for Reform Judaism argues that limits on immigration contribute to illegal immigration, and calls for legislation that Increases the number of visas allowing unskilled laborers to work in the U.S.

Most parishioners believe that enforcing the law and improving the wages and working conditions of unskilled workers to attract more Americans is the best way to deal with illegal immigration. The huge divide between leaders and members means that if there is a full-blown immigration debate next year it will be all the more contentious, with Jewish and Christian leaders on one side of the issue, their members on the other, and elected officials in the middle.


Zogby International was commissioned by the Center for Immigration Studies to conduct an online survey of 42,026 adults. Zogby used its online panel, which is representative of the US population. Zogby International weighted the data slightly to more accurately reflect the U.S. population. Zogby conducted the survey from Nov 13 to 30, 2009. The margin of error for the three Christian groups is +/- 1.1 percent and +/- 2.4 percent for likely Jewish voters.

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The Center for Immigration Studies is an independent research institution that examines the impact of immigration on the United States.