Floridians have negative feelings about undocumented immigrants, but an overwhelming majority favor policy that would allow such immigrants a path to U.S. citizenship, a new University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences survey suggests.
The survey of 507 Floridians found that although many see undocumented immigrants as threats to their economic well-being and personal safety, they still had “pockets” of sympathetic views toward those trying to establish themselves as U.S. residents, said Tracy Irani, director of the UF/IFAS Center for Public Issues Education, or PIE Center, the research group that led the study.
“They definitely have some concerns and some less favorable perceptions about undocumented immigrants, but despite that, still, the majority feels positively about there being some pathway toward citizenship for undocumented immigrants,” Irani said. “To me, that’s the big takeaway.”
Jack Payne, UF’s senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources, said the immigration survey results point out precisely why the university must take a leading role in studying immigration and educating the public about the pros and cons of immigration reform.
“To solve an issue, you must understand that issue,” Payne said. “Immigration is a critical issue for Floridians – it’s affecting agriculture, which is a key economic driver in our state, it affects our public schools, and our health care system … we can’t separate ourselves from it.”
Irani said the study found significant knowledge gaps about current and pending immigration policy.
Among those gaps: Many respondents knew that undocumented immigrants often work in agriculture or outdoor industries, such as construction or roofing, but only 6 percent of respondents knew that many work in the hospitality industry.
About 58 percent of respondents did not know that babies born in the U.S. to undocumented immigrants are automatically granted U.S. citizenship.
And more than half of the survey’s respondents were unaware of the E-Verify system being considered as a mandatory check to see if potential employees are authorized to work in the United States, she said.
Seventy-three percent of survey respondents said they believe undocumented immigrants are a burden on the economy more than an asset, and 58 percent of respondents agreed with the statement “undocumented immigrants reduce the number of good jobs for Americans.”
Despite those negative feelings, 85 percent said the government should either allow undocumented immigrants to remain in the U.S. and eventually become citizens or require them to leave and return and become citizens only if they meet specific requirements. Only 15 percent said they would prefer the government to force undocumented immigrants out of the U.S. permanently.
The survey showed that 44 percent of respondents reported knowing someone who came to the U.S. in the last 10 years, either documented or undocumented. Thirty-nine percent of those said they consider that person a friend.
Survey respondents were asked to assign levels of importance to a number of topics, and immigration was not among their chief concerns. Only 70 percent of respondents reported it as extremely or highly important, dead last behind the economy, health care, water, the federal budget deficit, housing, K-12 education and higher education.
The survey respondents were selected as a demographically representative sample of adult Florida residents. This is the second of four surveys PIE Center officials hope to conduct every year, to track public sentiment over time. Besides immigration, the other topics include water, endangered species, and perceptions about organic and non-organic foods and agricultural practices used to grow them.