June 23, 2016

Most Americans Oppose Bans on Muslims and Refugees

Washington, DC – After the horrific shooting at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Donald Trump almost immediately reiterated his call for a ban on Muslim immigration into the United States. Such a blanket ban could affect millions of people in at least 40 countries, including Iran. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) implied the Obama Administration’s issuance of green cards to individuals from “Muslim-majority countries” was problematic and released a report asserting that foreign born individuals were largely responsible for terrorism in the U.S.

The Iranian-American community has already seen how fears of terrorism have been channeled into knee-jerk policy changes to the immigration system. After the San Bernardino attacks in December, Congress pushed through changes barring individuals from the Visa Waiver Program if they are dual nationals of or have traveled to Iran, Iraq, Syria and Sudan.  

However, there is reason to believe that the heated rhetoric of Trump and others does not resonate with the American people, according to the results of a Brookings Institute poll conducted by Nonresident Senior Fellow Shibley Telhami.

According to the poll, 61% of Americans oppose the total shutdown of Muslims entering the U.S., while only 38% of Americans support such a ban, In fact, most Americans support the U.S. taking in refugees from the Middle East. The Brookings poll, “American attitudes on refugees from the Middle East,” reports that 59% of people surveyed supported the U.S. accepting refugees, after security screening, from conflict-torn areas in the Middle East, including but not limited to Syria.

Of those in opposition to absorbing refugees, the number one concern was terrorism; Trump supporters constituted the greatest proportion of these respondents. Close behind, 41% of Americans raised concern over the economic burden. However, only 9% voiced concern over more Muslims, even if peaceful, in the U.S. This statistic contrasts with Trump’s discriminatory rhetoric targeting Muslim communities.

Additionally, the poll’s respondents were asked to estimate the number of refugees who were arrested in the U.S. since 9/11 over terrorist charges. 30% guessed less than 100 refugees, and 28% guessed more than 100. However, in reality, only 3 have been arrested, pointing to a tension between public perception and the reality of terror attacks in terms of American attitudes towards migrants from the Middle East.

These findings counter Trump’s immigration narrative, pointing to a greater acceptance of migrants and refugees, specifically those escaping conflict in the Middle East, than the fears on which a travel ban would be predicated.

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