Ag Policy Blog

Rural Nebraskans Divided on Immigration, Undocumented Workers

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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Hispanic workers at a dairy in upstate New York. A poll by the University of Nebraska shows rural residents largely agreed undocumented workers should be deported, but they also agreed undocumented workers should have a chance to apply for citizenship. (DTN file photo)

A University of Nebraska poll captures some of the division and nuances in rural America about how immigrants are viewed and the policies for dealing with immigration.

Almost two-thirds of respondents to the Nebraska Rural Poll, 65%, agreed that undocumented immigrants should be deported. Yet, 62% of Nebraskans polled also agreed that undocumented immigrants who have been working and paying taxes for five years or more should be allowed to apply for citizenship.

The Nebraska Rural Poll had 1,776 respondents in 2019, the 24th year of the poll. The poll had a series of questions on immigration, some of which were repeated from the 2006 poll. The poll largely excludes urban Nebraskans by not polling people in the state's six most populated counties.

Becky Vogt, survey research manager at the University of Nebraska Department of Agricultural Economics, said there were a lot of divided opinions on immigrants. On the divide between 65% of people wanting undocumented immigrants deported, but 62% willing to allow undocumented workers to apply for citizenship, Vogt said the difference the first question was shorter while the second provided more context.

"I think that was a little bit of difference between the two answers as you go from general to specific," Vogt said.

When it comes to agricultural labor, 36% of Nebraskans agreed with the idea that the existing guest-worker program for agriculture should be expanded to allow more immigrants to work in agriculture without becoming citizens. The same percentage, 36%, disagreed with that idea.

Again, reflecting a split, 38% of people agreed that immigrants strengthen rural Nebraska, but 30% disagreed. One-third of respondents think immigration on balance is good for the state, while 27% disagreed. Another one-third of Nebraskans polled could neither agree nor disagree with either statement.

People who are younger and living in larger towns have more positive views on immigration. People living in larger communities were more likely to be aware of immigrants while just over half of people ages 19 to 29 agreed that immigrants strengthen the state. For people ages 65 and over, the number fell to 31%.

When it comes to language, 84% of Nebraska agreed that immigrants should learn to speak English within a reasonable period of time. Half of Nebraskans don't think communities should communicate important information in languages other than English.

Three-quarters of rural Nebraskans, 74%, agreed that the government should tighten border security. That number has declined from 83% since the 2006 poll.

For businesses that employ undocumented immigrants, 75% of respondents agreed those businesses should be penalized.

And 64% disagreed with the idea that the federal government is too aggressive in deporting those in the county illegally.

Yet, reflecting the same division on deporting, 57% of respondents agreed there should be a way for undocumented immigrants who meet certain requirements to be allowed to stay in the U.S. legally. And 70% of rural Nebraskans agreed that immigrants brought here illegally as children should be given a chance to become U.S. citizens if they meet certain requirements over a period of time.

More than four in ten, 44%, agreed with the view that undocumented immigrants drive down wages in rural Nebraska. Just under one-quarter, 23% of respondents disagreed with that statement while another one-third did not agree or disagree. For people without a four-year degree, 50% agreed that undocumented immigrants drove down wages while 36% of people with at least a bachelor's degree held that view.

Nebraska Rural Poll…

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