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Poll: Most Minnesota voters disagree with Trump on immigration

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Protesters listen to Jaylani Hussein.
Marchers came out to show their objection to an immigration order signed by President Trump between the U.S. courthouse and Minneapolis City Hall on Jan. 31, 2017.
Doualy Xaykaothao | MPR News 2017

Cracking down on immigration was a central theme of Donald Trump's presidential campaign, and his call for building a wall at the Mexican border still draws wild applause at campaign rallies across the country.

But many Minnesotans do not agree with Trump's direction on immigration. Those divisions come clearly into focus in the latest MPR News/Star Tribune Minnesota Poll. The survey of 800 likely voters found 42 percent approve of Trump's handling of immigration policy while 52 percent disapprove; 6 percent were unsure.

42 percent approve of how President Trump is handling immigration policy.
The latest MPR News/Star Tribune Minnesota Poll found 42 percent approve of how President Trump is handling immigration policy.
Will Lager | MPR News

The poll conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy between Oct. 15 and Oct. 17 has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, meaning that there is a 95 percent probability that the "true" figure would fall within that range if all voters were surveyed.

The data reveal a complex landscape on the issue, one that's become increasingly challenging for the state's politicians to navigate as the election draws near. In September, for instance, the Trump administration set the 2019 cap on refugee resettlement to its lowest level since the program began in 1980.

Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, the Republican candidate for governor, promoted a moratorium on refugee resettlement in a recent debate with Democratic candidate Tim Walz.

"Let's pause refugee resettlement," Johnson said. "Let's find out what the costs are. Let's also look at why some of our refugees aren't achieving the American dream."

The Minnesota Poll found 27 percent support a temporary stop to refugee resettlement. Respondents were split on whether the number of refugees being resettled in Minnesota should increase or stay about the same. 

On Trump's handling of immigration policy, women are more likely than men to disapprove, and younger voters are more likely to disapprove than older voters. Only in northern Minnesota do a majority approve of Trump's approach to immigration.

More than 90 percent of Democrats oppose building a wall along the Mexican border if the U.S. has to pay for it, but 2 out of 3 Republicans support the idea.

More Minnesotans oppose building a border wall if the U.S. pays for it.
More Minnesotans responding to the latest MPR News/Star Tribune Minnesota Poll opposed building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border if the U.S. has to pay for it.
Will Lager | MPR News

The issue is playing out in the campaigns for Congress in Minnesota this year.

"We need a wall, we need fencing, we need every kind of security border we can so that illegal folks, drugs, everyone else, don't come to the United States unless they come through a legal process," Republican 1st District candidate Jim Hagedorn said during an MPR News debate with DFL candidate Dan Feehan earlier this month.

Feehan said the U.S. should be paying more attention to issues other than immigration, including cyberattacks by other countries.

"If our entire focus is on the wall," he said, "we are going to miss things that are a bigger threat to this country along the way."

Poll respondent Charlie Bye of Little Falls, Minn., said there are too many refugees coming into the U.S. and believes Trump is doing a good job on immigration. He's worried about the group of migrants currently making their way through Mexico bound for the U.S.

"I hope Trump takes the military down on the southern border and stops this caravan coming from Central America, it's just crazy. We've got our own problems in this country to take care of."

Others had a more nuanced reaction.

Jason Theisen of Milaca, Minn., told pollsters he approves of Trump's handling of immigration, but he is also among 50 percent of respondents who believe there should be a path to citizenship for people in the country without authorization.

"Certainly, they're being vilified," he said. "They're just trying to make a better life for themselves and anything different is going to make people scared or whatever, and I don't think that's right."

While Minnesota has a strong history of welcoming refugees, immigration surfaced as one of Minnesota's most divisive issues last year in a major poll commissioned by MPR News and APM Research Lab, a sister organization of MPR News that specializes in analysis of demographics and surveys.

Half of Minnesotans support a pathway to citizenship.
Half of the Minnesotans responding to the latest MPR News/Star Tribune Minnesota Poll said immigrants should be allowed to stay and become U.S. citizens if they meet certain requirements.
Will Lager | MPR News

The latest Minnesota Poll found half of Minnesotans overall believe there should be a path to citizenship for immigrants who are in the country illegally. There was less consensus, however, among the state's Republicans: 20 percent said they should be deported, 40 percent said they should be allowed to stay to work without becoming citizens, and 34 percent agreed there should be a path to citizenship.

And while "build that wall" has been a popular chant at the president's rallies across the country, Minnesota Republicans are not united on building what Trump envisions.

Last week's polling found two-thirds of the state's GOP voters support Trump's wall call, while only one-third of independents here agree, said Craig Helmstetter, the APM Research Lab's managing partner.

Poll respondent Shawnee Burnett disapproves of Trump's handling of immigration policy. The Oak Park Heights woman said she thinks some politicians try to gain favor with voters by criticizing immigrants.

"Everybody in the United States is an immigrant," she said. "At one point in time, we all were."