Media coverage of the Trump administration’s policy of arresting people who illegally cross the border has been almost uniformly negative. Some has been downright hysterical. A new Economist/YouGov poll shows, however, that the vast majority of Americans polled support either President Trump’s executive order, the initial enforcement of the law that resulted in family separation, or something even stricter.
A CNN contributor said Trump’s border enforcement policies were akin to the Holocaust. A Washington Post writer said they were more like slavery. An MSNBC contributor said border enforcement was racist. A CNBC contributor said the same. Outrage blanketed the airwaves. Few explained why they didn’t care much or at all about child detention centers during the Obama administration.
One Daily Beast editor blamed Trump for abuses at child detention centers during the Obama administration. Time magazine’s cover features a sobbing toddler whose picture went viral in the media this week with a photoshopped President Trump towering above her. The photographer who took the photo said he could barely breathe as the girl’s mother was detained. Time explained it chose the cover “Due to the power of the image, which appeared as critics from across the political spectrum attacked President Trump’s now-reversed policy of separating children from parents who are being detained for illegally entering the United States.”
It turned out that media apparently got the story of the sobbing toddler all sorts of wrong. And while newsrooms are in lockstep agreement that they oppose strong border enforcement, that view is not popular among the rest of the country.
When asked which policy they prefer for how to handle families that are stopped for crossing the border illegally, two-thirds of the 1,500 surveyed said they support detention for lawbreakers and less than 20 percent responded that they support previous presidential administrations’ policy of letting the lawbreakers enter the country with a promise to return for a later court date. The poll was taken June 17-19, at the height of media outrage over the policy.
When given a choice for how to handle illegal border crossing arrests, some 44 percent of Americans chose “hold families together in family detention centers until an immigration hearing at a later date.” Another 20 percent of U.S. adults chose detention options that would separate families. Only 19 percent chose to return to the policy of allowing people who cross the border illegally to go without detention on the promise they’d return for a court hearing at a later date.
The Economist/YouGov poll shows an American electorate fare more serious about border enforcement than what the media conversation would indicate. For instance, more Americans support treating the illegal crossing of the border as a criminal matter than a civil matter. Among Republicans, that percentage who support treating illegal border crossing as a criminal matter goes up to 74 percent. The poll also shows that 80 percent of Republicans support a border wall, 62 percent support deportation for all those in the country illegally, and 74 percent think that illegally crossing the border should be handled as a criminal matter.
If you get your news from the mainstream media, you’d think the American people were demanding lax border enforcement, when it’s the exact opposite. Again, this is particularly true of Republicans. While Republicans who oppose this policy dominate most right-of-center space on cable TV and in the media, only 4 percent of actual adults who identify as Republican strongly disapprove of the policy of jailing illegal border crossers. Some 85 percent of Republicans support either Trump’s executive order for family detention or something stricter. Only 7 percent oppose all such detentions.
The poll also shows that only 8 percent of American voters think illegal immigration is not a serious problem.