On Sunday, a group of migrants near Tijuana, Mexico, rushed through border fencing and attempted to enter the United States near San Diego. Tear gas was fired by Border Patrol agents, and most of the migrants turned back. A few dozen were arrested. Pictures and online videos showed children clinging to adults fleeing the scene. Massive media coverage of the incident brought the difficult images into tens of millions of American households.
When President Donald Trump was asked to defend the use of tear gas, he said: "Here's the bottom line: Nobody's coming into our country unless they're coming legally." In other words, the president treated it like an issue of law and order. And, on that point, the president has solid backing in the court of public opinion. Eight out of 10 voters nationwide believe that illegal immigration is bad for America.
Despite all those troubling images, a poll conducted by ScottRasmussen.com and HarrisX two days after the incident found that just 25 percent of voters believe Border Patrol's actions are too harsh on illegal immigrants. A plurality (43 percent) believe that Border Patrol is too lenient.
The poll also found that Mexico's offer of asylum should be enough for migrants who are truly trying to escape from persecution. Since they have already been provided with a safe haven, just 38 percent of voters think the migrants should still be eligible for asylum in the United States.
This episode is just the latest example of how the political and media elites have failed to grasp the general public's perspective on immigration. That failure is a big part of the reason that Trump was elected president of the United States.
Americans overwhelmingly support legal immigration. They cherish our heritage as a land of immigrants. Eighty-one percent say it's good for the nation. But they also cherish our heritage as a nation of laws. Most see a big difference between the benefits of legal immigration and the costs or threats of illegal immigration.
Americans are a generous people who naturally have great empathy for those who are fleeing persecution. But voters also suspect that some of the migrants seeking to enter the country illegally have less wholesome intentions. Sixty-two percent are concerned that some might be national security threats. That's why 70 percent want those traveling through Mexico to either be turned away or held in detention centers while their cases are reviewed.
Seven out of 10 Americans also support comprehensive federal immigration reform to secure our borders and resolve the status of illegal immigrants already living in the country. Fifty-five percent believe the top priority in any such reform should be ensuring that border security measures are implemented and effective. Only 34 percent take the opposite view.
American voters recognize that our immigration system is badly broken. They are prepared to support a reasonable plan that would secure the border, legalize the vast majority of those who are currently living in the U.S. illegally and set reasonable rules for future immigration policy.
Unfortunately, America's political and media elites have made it clear that they simply will not support any form of border security. As long as that remains true, the prospects for immigration reform are nonexistent.