Most Texans believe immigrants are good for the state, but only 15 percent believe more legal immigrants should be admitted into the country, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.
Asked whether the United States admits the right number of legal immigrants from other countries, 42 percent of Texas voters say the number is too high, 30 percent say it's about right and 15 percent say the United States should increase the number of immigrants.
Republicans were more likely than Democrats to say the current admission rate is too high — 62 percent of Republicans think so, while only 21 percent of Democrats do. Democrats were also more likely to agree that "newcomers from other countries enrich Texas with their hard work and values." Overall, 60 percent of Texas voters agree with that sentiment, while 30 percent disagree. Among Democrats, 81 percent agree and 9 percent disagree; among Republicans, 41 percent agree and 49 percent disagree.
"The plurality of Republicans don't think newcomers are enriching Texas, and they'd also like to curtail illegal immigration," said Josh Blank, manager of polling for the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin.
Those partisan splits persist in other responses about immigration. Republican voters listed immigration and border security as the two most important problems facing the state and immigration as the top problem facing the country. Those concerns are reflected in their responses to specific immigration issues.
"There's a plausible argument to be made here about the increase of nativist sentiment in the Republican Party," said Jim Henson, co-director of the poll and head of the Texas Politics Project at UT-Austin.
"For all the talk about splits in the GOP, immigration is a big unifier," he said. "When you need to bring the family together in the Republican Party, you go to immigration, both legal and illegal."
Most Texans (61 percent) would continue "Dreamers" policies that prevent the deportation of young people brought to the U.S. as children, who've completed high school or military service and have not committed crimes. Another 29 percent would end that program. But while 88 percent of Democrats would continue it, 51 percent of Republicans would like to end it. More than a third of Republicans (36 percent) would continue the program.
Other undocumented immigrants living in Texas should be immediately deported, according to 45 percent of Texas voters, while 50 percent disagree with that proposal. Again, the partisan splits are striking: 70 percent of Republicans favor immediate deportation of undocumented immigrants, while 75 percent of Democrats oppose deportation.
"That's a law-and-order question," said Daron Shaw, who teaches government at UT-Austin and co-directs the poll. "Trump said it in a debate when he was running for president, and I think it really resonated with Republicans."
The numbers make clear the differences facing federal policymakers, and Shaw said Donald Trump's State of the Union speech — with its appeal for a compromise on immigration issues — was an attempt to reframe a debate that's been stymied by those differences. "This is a way he could talk about it, and maybe win," Shaw said.
Building a wall on the Texas-Mexico border is even more politically polarizing, with 78 percent of Texas Republicans in favor of it and 83 percent of Democrats against it. Overall, 45 percent of the state's voters want to build a wall and 50 percent do not.
The voter responses illustrate the problems for federal legislators trying to find common ground on immigration legislation, Henson said. "This is an enduring feature of Republican attitudes — the idea that if you're here illegally, you should be deported immediately. At the end of the day, most Republicans [in office] feel they're taking a big risk if they show any softness on immigration."
The University of Texas/Texas Tribune internet survey of 1,200 registered voters was conducted from Feb. 1 to Feb. 12 and has an overall margin of error of +/- 2.83 percentage points. Numbers in charts might not add up to 100 percent because of rounding.