1 of 3
Mike Christy, Arizona Daily Star
Protesters march through downtown in response to a jury finding U.S. Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz not guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the cross-border shooting death of Mexican teen Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2018, in Tucson, Ariz. It was his second trial after another jury acquitted him of second-degree murder and deadlocked on the manslaughter charge earlier this year. (Mike Christy/Arizona Daily Star via AP)

Editor's note: Read more stories from the 2018 American Family Survey.

SALT LAKE CITY — Republicans and Democrats heartily disagree whether naturalized citizens should be able to sponsor their grandparents to come to Ameirca. Nearly two-thirds of Democrats say yes, while nearly the same number of Republicans say no. The break is nearly the same on sponsoring siblings. And only a minority of either party support bringing aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins.

But despite those differences, the majority of Americans agree that citizens should be able to bring their children, spouses and parents to America. And they overwhelmingly support keeping children with their asylum-seeking parents, rather than splitting families up to discourage immigration.

That's according to the American Family Survey, an annual, nationally representative survey of 3,000 people conducted by YouGov for the Deseret News and the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University. The 2018 survey, fielded in August, is the fourth time it has been conducted.

More than 80 percent of respondents believe members of migrant families who cross the border without a visa to seek asylum should be kept together, though there are partisan differences about where these families should be kept and what process should be imposed. Most of those who want families maintained intact say they should be allowed into the country "subject to an asylum hearing." A third believe the would-be immigrants should be held together in a detention center.

Immigration continues to flumox policymakers and the public is grappling with a number of related issues and events, often dividing along partisan lines. A series of policy decisions have fanned controversy, drawing both praise and condemnation. Among them:

• The Trump administration vowed to end so-called "chain migration" by narrowing the list of relatives a naturalized citizen can sponsor.

• The separation earlier this year of would-be immigrant children and parents at the U.S. border with Mexico, a measure administration officials said would discourage immigrants from coming to the United States. Some families are still waiting to reunite.

• Clashes at the U.S.-Mexican border this month after some members of a caravan of asylum seekers from Central America reportedly rushed the border to enter the United States.

Mike Christy, Arizona Daily Star
A protester stands in the middle of Congress Street in front of the federal courthouse in response to a jury finding U.S. Border Patrol agent Lonnie Swartz not guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the cross-border shooting death of Mexican teen Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2018, in Tucson, Ariz. It was his second trial after another jury acquitted him of second-degree murder and deadlocked on the manslaughter charge earlier this year. (Mike Christy/Arizona Daily Star via AP)

Most of those surveyed believe citizens should be able to bring their children, spouses and parents to this country. More Democrats favor extending the opportunity to siblings and grandparents, compared to Republicans. "Majorities of all partisan stripes oppose extending the circle to other extended family members," the survey report noted.

However, single adults who don't have kids are somewhat more likely to support allowing a broader circle of family — including aunts, uncles, siblings, nieces, nephews and cousins to immigrate — compared to married respondents with children.

The questions about immigration and how those questions were asked point out the common ground among differing opinions. In public policy discussions, it's easy to overemphasize polarity, said Jeremy C. Pope, who co-wrote the study and co-directs the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy with Christopher F. Karpowitz. "We forget we have a lot in common," he said.

Different lives — and views

"We knew immigration was going to be a big issue going into the survey," Karpowitz said. "Our focus was trying to understand this topic in relationship to the family, so asking the question about who naturalized citizens should be able to sponsor is unique. It's certainly the case that Americans tend to want immigrants to have that opportunity, although most don't want that to be just open-ended for any family member."

Pope said people who are married with kids tend to focus on their nuclear family, which becomes "really prioritized."

The survey makes clear that life experience helps shape opinion, says Richard Reeves, senior fellow in economic studies at Brookings Institution and an adviser to the survey. But that doesn't reveal what actual policies people support. Rather, "it helps to delineate the space within which a lot of the policy conversation needs to take place," he said.

In other words, while family roles don't settle tricky questions like immigration policy, they do help explain the window through which people view them. And at a time when politics and partisanship dominate many conversations and people seem to want to pigeon-hole each other, it's a reminder, Reeves said, that people are much more likely to call themselves "a father" or a "wife" than to describe themselves as "evangelical" or "white" or from "Nebraska.

The survey found nearly half of those polled believe families seeking asylum should be allowed into the country while they wait for an asylum hearing. Critics, including the Trump administration, have said immigration officials could lose track of them. Pope noted that most, historically, do show up for their hearings.

Another 37 percent said parents and children should be together in a detention facility. Just 17 percent believe parents and children should be separated.

Changing policy

The Trump administration has made significant immigration-related policy changes, according to the Migration Policy Institute, beginning with a travel ban involving eight countries and followed by reducing refugee admissions, beefing up arrests of unauthorized immigrants, cancelling the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program and ending temporary status designations for immigrants from Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan, among others.

Since his presidential campaign, Trump has pushed for a wall along the Mexican border and recently ordered the arrest of any who cross into the United States to petition for asylum outside of established checkpoints.

Until 1965, America employed country-of-origin quotas. Then the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 placed high value on admitting people with highly developed, desirable skills, as well as those with family members in the United States. A majority of Americans polled by Gallup back then thought skills and family ties were both important in deciding who could come to the United States.

John Gibbins, The San Diego Union-Tribune
In a Nov. 6, 2018 photo, Marine Corps engineers from Camp Pendleton put up razor wire just east of the San Ysidro Port of Entry where trains pass from the US in to Mexico and Mexico to the US to support Border Patrol after President Trump has said he fears an invasion of Hondurans arriving in coming weeks. (John Gibbins/The San Diego Union-Tribune via AP)

One consideration has long been the ability to support oneself, so immigrants are barred from receiving safety net benefits, including food stamps, Medicaid or money for child assistance for at least five years after they arrive. Citizens who sponsor family members agree to accept some financial responsibility if that proves to be a problem.

10 comments on this story

Congress has a history of promoted keeping immigrant families together. Examples include the 1907 Gentlemen's Agreement with Japan, which while trying to curb immigration from Japan still allowed Japanese men in America to send for their wives. The War Brides Act of 1945 let U.S. soldiers bring their foreign-born spouses, and didn't count them in existing quotas. Allowing people to bring loved ones has also been used to attract immigrants with high skill levels.

Separating children from parents and debate over concerns about chain migration are quite recent. "It's a long tradition in our country — and it's pretty new in the policy world to be questioning the value of family migration. There have been debates about specific categories and numbers, but I think the level of skepticism is something that's new,” Migration Policy Institute senior policy analyst Julia Gelatt told the Deseret News.