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Americans increasingly see border as crisis, call for tougher measures, CBS News poll finds

Americans are increasingly concerned about the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border, and the percentage who think the Biden administration should be tougher on immigrants trying to cross it is up to the highest percentage yet.

Most say the border situation is very serious, and nearly half now say it's a crisis — up from May — a change in sentiment driven primarily by Democrats and independents. 

As a result, President Biden's approval on handing the U.S.-Mexico border has also dropped, and his approval on handling immigration in general is at an all-time low, though it hasn't dragged down his overall approval rating.

Support for transporting migrants to northern cities has also dipped — among Democrats and Republicans — and now, most Americans disapprove of the practice.


Americans show concern across partisan lines about resources and the ability of the U.S. to handle more people. But while Democrats express more concern about the lives and well being of the migrants, Republicans express more concern about national security.

Many Americans, particularly those living in cities, report an increase in the number of immigrants arriving in their local area, and those who do are the most likely to view the situation as a crisis. 


Meanwhile, the practice of southern border states sending migrants to northern cities and states is facing increasing disapproval — particularly in the Northeast. In May, the country was evenly divided on this, but now a majority disapprove. Approval is down even among Republicans, about half of whom now disapprove of the practice. Some of this difference is regional: most Republicans in the southern and western states from where the migrants are being sent approve, while most Republicans in the Midwest and Northeast — where the migrants are being sent — disapprove.


Most Americans also oppose providing temporary housing and social services for migrants in the areas where they live. In May, a slim majority approved of this. Approval is down slightly among all partisans, as well as among those who live in urban and suburban areas, though a large majority of Democrats, and most Americans who live in cities, still favor it.


While Americans overwhelmingly think asylum-seekers crossing the U.S.-Mexico border should get a hearing, most don't want them to remain in the United States. A majority says these applicants should leave the U.S., including some who think they should have no opportunity to come back.


Still, most Americans want the U.S. to focus on making sure the process of determining who should be admitted is more efficient, rather than focus on keeping migrants from crossing the border in the first place. Those who think that the influx is driven more by conditions in the home countries of the migrants lean toward making the asylum system more efficient, while those who think it's driven more by insufficient border security and the decisions of the Biden administration are more intent on keeping the migrants out in the first place. This, in turn, is connected to partisanship.


What do Americans think is causing the current surge in migrants at the border? This, too, is largely tied to political beliefs: most Democrats cite increased dangers and worsening economic conditions in their home countries. Many Republicans acknowledge these factors as well, but they are more likely to blame rule changes by the Biden administration and not enough security at the border generally, as well as failure to finish the border wall specifically.


Along with concerns about resources, many Americans also express concerns about the long-term effect these current migrants will have on American society. Relatively few think they will make American society better in the long run, while nearly half think they will make it worse. Those who think the migrants will make society worse tend to lean Republican. They overwhelmingly oppose providing housing and services for the migrants in their local areas, and think the U.S. needs to focus more on securing the border than streamlining the application process.


This CBS News/YouGov survey was conducted with a nationally representative sample of 2,157 U.S. adult residents interviewed between January 3-5, 2024. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the U.S. Census American Community Survey and Current Population Survey, as well as past vote. The margin of error is ±2.8 points.


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