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What a Pew poll says about our views on undocumented immigrants

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Whether you agree with the results of the Pew poll or not, you have to admit that San Francisco is right on the ball in terms of its stance on immigration and sanctuary city policy. (Courtesy Pew Research Center)
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A Pew Research Center national poll, conducted in August 2016 among 2,010 adults, revealed that 76 percent of Americans believe undocumented immigrants are “as hard-working and honest as U.S. citizens,” 67 percent believe this segment of our population are “no more likely than citizens to commit crime” and 61 percent oppose the idea of a border wall.

There are a few ways of looking at the information above:

– That most Americans are pacific and look at the world with more optimism than our last election indicates.

– That a majority of Americans believe the problem is not the people who enter our country illegally, but our immigration and enforcement policies.

– That the solution to illegal entry cannot be solved by a wall — however long, however tall, however strong.

– That those who enter our country are as normal as a random slice of any population, with mostly hard-working people who want to provide for their families in the best way they can, a few sloths and a few criminals. To substantiate that, according to the Center for Immigration Studies, in the third quarter of 2016, labor force participation rate of immigrants without a college degree was 71.2 percent, compared to 70.4 percent of that of natives without a college degree. And the Migration Policy Institute estimates that 820,000 of the 11 million who entered the country illegally have criminal convictions. This is a subset of the 1.9 million criminal noncitizens identified by the Department of Homeland Security for removal (some are legal immigrants but not citizens), which works out to about 7.45 percent.

Then, there is another way of looking at the same data:

– That Pew Research polls have been financed by advocacy groups who promote a favorable impression of undocumented immigrants with their “cheap labor, open border agenda.

– That even if there is one criminal among the undocumented population, that’s one too many, and the problem of undocumented immigrants is also one of criminal immigrants. Why should hard-working American citizens finance the criminal activities of hundreds of thousands of criminals?

– That the poll questions are framed poorly and leave room for ambivalence.

– That the respondents polled were sub-selected to give inadequate answers.

Perhaps both perspectives are somewhat correct. It’s likely that the poll was skewed and also likely that most Americans are genial and tend to pursue a “live and let live” attitude. Still, without relying wholly on Pew’s poll, how do we determine San Francisco’s immigration policy?

For one, San Francisco’s elected officials should be able to deduce the prevailing mood of the people.

On the Thursday after Election Day, Mayor Ed Lee emphatically declared that San Francisco will remain a sanctuary city.

“The mayor’s comments are totally [consistent] with the agreement he, the sheriff and I made earlier this year on a clear, single standard for our sanctuary city, even while under attack from trumped up anti-immigrant sentiment,” Supervisor John Avalos told the San Francisco Examiner on Nov. 10.

Mayor Lee has also proposed putting public funds toward legal services for immigrants facing deportation.

Currently, there are 37,478 immigrants in San Francisco’s immigration court who might be part of the deportation pipeline.

To further establish who The City represents, the Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution to counter the threats of Donald Trump’s presidency against Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ, climate change, women’s rights and immigrants.

“We will not turn our back on the men and women from other countries who help make this city great, and who represent over one third of our population,” the board wrote. “This is the Golden Gate — we build bridges, not walls …”

It looks like San Francisco’s office-bearers have more of a finger on the pulse of their populace than the President-elect does.

Trump has declared his intention to deport undocumented immigrants with criminal records, and he estimates this number to be between 2 million and 3 million.

Trump’s declarations extend his unsubstantiated provocation, espoused during his election campaign, that undocumented immigrants, in many cases, are “criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc.”

The word “many” is one that Trump has used loosely, merely to inflame his own anti-immigrant base, with a harmful disregard for facts or figures.

Advocacy groups argue also the term “criminal” is somewhat deceptive. Terms of criminality are more stringent when it comes to the undocumented population. Low-level crimes can result in detention, which then can result in deportation.

To be clear, during President Barack Obama’s presidency, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has converged on the criminal undocumented population. In 2015, 59 percent of all those deported had criminal records. This was a steep rise from 2008, when convicted criminals accounted for 39 percent of all deportations. So, Trump advocating for removal of criminals is certainly not new, though it has been posed to the public as a novel idea.

Believing in the Pew poll depends on which side of the immigration fence you belong. Typically, there is no big revelation from polls, merely a confirmation of the average opinion. The disagreement usually lies in the interpretation of results.

Whether you agree with the results of the Pew poll or not, you have to admit that San Francisco is right on the ball. When it comes to caring for who lives among us, The City has the majority opinion.

Jaya Padmanabhan can be reached at jaya.padmanabhan@gmail.com. Twitter: @jayapadmanabhan. In Brown Type covers immigrant issues in San Francisco.

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