Immigration Is America's Biggest Concern and It's Bringing Out the Worst in People

“It makes no sense at all. Why should we have to serve them? Why should we have to pay anything?”

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The growing concern over the immigration crisis isn't just in your head — a new Gallup poll shows that most people believe "immigration/illegal aliens" is the country's biggest problem. And, as we've seen from several reports, that's fired up the country's most passionate anti-illegal immigration extremists.


As the chart above shows, 17 percent of Americans think immigration is the country's most important problem, up from 5 percent last month. The poll has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus four percentage points, but immigration is definitely now a much bigger issue than Obamacare. That the rise is being led, understandably, by people in border states, according to a regional breakdown provided to The Washington Post. In border states, concern rose from 10 to 28 percentage points between June and July. In non-border states concern rose from 4 to 14 percentage points.

How has this new elevated concern played out? Not well. Over 70,000 unaccompanied minors will be apprehended at the border this year, and the government has run out of room in processing centers to house the children. Officials have started transporting the children to other states and in communities across the country, people have heavily protested attempts to house undocumented minors. 

It's one thing to criticize the way the federal government has handled the shelter situation — often without consulting local communities or officials — but the opposition has taken a more extreme turn. Earlier this month, protesters in Murrieta, California forced buses full of children to turn around, but that seems mild compared to the events that followed. The New York Times noted that, in Michigan, protesters marched on a proposed shelter site, some "armed with semiautomatic rifles and handguns. In Virginia, an effort to house the children at the shuttered campus of Saint Paul’s College in Lawrenceville caused such an uproar that federal officials pulled out, even though a five-month lease had been signed." 

Some of the incidents have been equal parts embarrassing and xenophobic. In Westminster, Maryland, someone graffitied "No Illeagles" on the side of a possible site. Earlier this week, an Arizona GOP congressional candidate mistook a bus full of YMCA campers for migrant children and chased after it.

A lot of the concerns the communities have are unfounded. As The Times explains, any diseases the children carry are "not unlike what public school nurses see." The shelters aren't funded by municipalities and the children are usually sent to relatives in other places and won't flood local public schools. And while some people living near the shelters have mixed feelings — they're sympathetic towards the kids but know this system isn't sustainable — other are not. “They’re not legal, and they expect to come and get benefits,” Richard Jones, 64, a retired electrician from Escondido, told The Times. “It makes no sense at all. Why should we have to serve them? Why should we have to pay anything?”

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.