Will the Boston bombing change American attitudes about Muslims and immigration reform?

Sens. McCain and Graham want the Boston bombing suspect held as an enemy combatant. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP) FIGURING FAITH | … Continued

Sens. McCain and Graham want the Boston bombing suspect held as an enemy combatant. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

The revelation that the two leading suspects in Boston bombing were Chechen Muslim immigrants to the U.S.—one a U.S. citizen since 2011 and one a lawful permanent legal resident—spurred a round of discussion about the link between the terrorist bombings in Boston and the recently introduced immigration reform bill, sparking especially heated debate among Republican leaders. On the one hand, Sen. Chuck Grassley and others have argued that since the bombings were allegedly perpetrated by immigrants who were living legally in the U.S., new legislation should be delayed until the failures of the current legislation could be fully understood. Meanwhile, Sen. Lindsay Graham and Sen. John McCain countered by urging lawmakers to move forward on the immigration reform bill, arguing that the legislation would strengthen national security. The Catholic bishops have similarly urged lawmakers to seize this opportunity to fix the immigration system.

Findings from PRRI/Brookings’ recent large national survey of immigration reform suggest that the general public falls closer to McCain and Graham on this complicated issue. Generally, the survey findings show that while there is a positive correlation between negative attitudes about Muslims and concerns about national security, these concerns do not translate into opposition to a path to citizenship for immigrants who are currently living illegally in the U.S.

The survey shows that Americans are strongly concerned about security issues in the context of immigration. More than eight-in-ten (84 percent) Americans say that “promoting national security” is a very or extremely important value that should guide the creation of any immigration reform policy.

While Americans exhibit, on balance, relatively positive views of immigrants, Americans hold more negative than positive attitudes about Muslims. When asked about how different groups of people are changing America, 27 percent of Americans say Muslims are changing American culture and way of life for the worse, compared to 18 percent who say Muslims are changing America for the better. A majority (54 percent) of Americans say Muslims are having no impact or mixed impact on American culture and way of life, or say they do not know. Of the nine groups measured in the survey, only nonreligious Americans and atheists had a higher negative to positive impact ratio than Muslims. Americans who say that Muslims are changing America for the worse also have strong security concerns: 94 percent say that promoting national security is a very or extremely important value for guiding immigration reform.

But notably, neither Americans who say promoting national security is a very or extremely important value nor Americans who believe Muslims are changing the country for the worse connect those beliefs strongly with opposition to immigration reform. Among Americans who say that promoting national security is very or extremely important, 67 percent support a path to citizenship. Similarly, among Americans who believe Muslims are changing the country for the worse, 57 percent nonetheless favor a path to citizenship for immigrants who are currently living in the U.S. illegally. Even among Americans who believe Muslims are changing the country for the worse AND who say promoting national security is very or extremely important, a majority (55 percent) favor a path to citizenship.

There are at least two reasons why the minority of Americans who hold negative views about Muslims nevertheless support immigration reform. First, like most Americans, three-quarters of this group sees the current immigration system as mostly broken. Second, this group also sees other values as important to immigration reform. Among Americans who say Muslims are changing the country for the worse, three-quarters (75 percent) say that the value of protecting the dignity of every person is very important, and nearly six-in-ten (58 percent) say that following the Golden Rule (“providing immigrants the same opportunity I would want if my family were immigrating to the U.S.”) is a very important value for guiding immigration reform policy.

Overall, the survey data suggests that for most Americans, and even for Americans who hold negative views of Muslims and strong security concerns, a combination of pragmatism and values lead them to the conclusion that the best way forward—even amidst these concerns—is to support a path to citizenship for immigrants currently living illegally in the U.S.


Robert P. Jones Dr. Robert P. Jones is the CEO of Public Religion Research Institute and a leading scholar and commentator on religion, values, and public life.
  • Mike Jones

    These “Polls” are rediculous….there was a Poll taken asking where this Immigration
    Reform issue ranked with Americans…..It was so far DOWN the List of Issues
    Americans are concerned with….near the bottom of priorities…that the RELEVANCE
    of these SKEWED Poll Results is a non issue……No Amnesty…Deport Now.

  • Mike Jones

    A path to Citizenship??? What for??? Get OUT…these fence jumpers can NOT be trusted
    obviously…they have ALREADY come here ILLEGALLY…whats next??? Build a Bomb??
    These Kooks need to GO.

  • wigglwagon

    Islam has declared war on everyone who is not subservient to them, and especially those who have created societies where women are not slaves. It is not just a few radicals.

  • Dallas Garcia

    Islam hasn’t declared war on anybody. Islam never ever permits terror or any harm to anybody, to any living organism. do not show your ignorance, do not be lazy and at least read wiki about Islam, which is religion of almost 2 billion people all over the world. Pay attention to timing of the bombing, Gun law& Immigration Reform. do you think this is coincidence. come on. open your eyes, Muslims are the good tool to use in US since people like you , ignorant, believe that Islam is doing all this mess. But see the bigger picture. Neos NRA bush and etc… please stop blaming Muslims on everything.

  • Dallas Garcia

    Terrorist cannot be Muslim, Muslim cannot be a terrorist. This is law in Islam. if you kill one human being, it is sin as if you killed all the humanity. and if you safe one human being it is good deed as if you saved all the humanity.

  • ThomasBaum

    Dallas Garcia

    You wrote, “Terrorist cannot be Muslim, Muslim cannot be a terrorist. This is law in Islam.”

    Seems as if there must be a lot of people pretending to be Muslims in a lot of places on this planet, is that the point that you are trying to get across?

  • Dallas Garcia

    by that I mean, if you are terrorizing and saying you are Muslim, that is incorrect, you are out of Islam when you start terrorizing, you can be saying you are Muslim but God will not accept that and you will be burning in hell forever. that is what i meant by saying” Terrorist cannot be a Muslim, Muslim cannot be a terrorist”. I hope I made it clear. Islam prohibits all kind of terror acts. Islam never ever lets any of Muslims to hurt anybody else, especially the acts like terror.

  • ThomasBaum

    God became One of us in the person of Jesus and in this unfolding of God’s Plan died for the salvation of All and God’s Plan will come to Fruition.

  • one nation

    Any member of congress that votes for this bill of amnesty seeks the latino vote and should be voted out of office account they have put the illegal aliens ahead of the American people and our country. What kind of a America do you want for your children?

  • LilMissusB

    When will people understand this is not a religious war at all?? Islam is actually a very peaceful religion. The issue is terrorist “pigs” that hide behind the Islamic religion and spew their hatred while they are busy killing, raping, torturing, and committing every kind of horrible sin that neither God nor Allah would ever condone or forgive them for. These people do not care at all about religion. They only care about power, greed, money, and being able to commit horrific acts that have nothing at all to do with their so-called religious beliefs. I agree, we need to stop Muslim immigration into our country, but not because I believe all Muslims are bad, but because sadly there needs to be more steps taken to prevent the bad ones from entering our country. Until we can develop a better system we need to keep them out of our country, closely examine those that are currently in our country, and take it from there. We need to protect ourselves, our family, and our future generations above all else, including diplomatic relations with any country.

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