Last week Immigration Works USA released a poll that highlighted the major problem in the immigration discourse: the conflation of legal with illegal immigration. Despite the three-fourths of immigrants who are here legally, the conversation centers on the one-fourth who are here illegally.

The poll found that once the discussion pivots towards legal immigration, Americans have a strongly positive view and support an enlarged visa program for immigrants doing “physically demanding work.”

The poll found that participants automatically assumed that a conversation about immigration is about illegal immigration. The Immigration Works USA report states, “We repeatedly needed to remind participants who we were talking about and redirect the discussion back to legal immigration.”

One participant, a college-educated Republican stated, “When you look around the country, when you bring up immigration, no matter if we want to or not, we think of illegal immigration.”

This might seem like a minor rhetorical difference. But the impact is noteworthy. Illegal immigration incites negative responses, but legal immigration is met with positive attitudes. So if people overwhelmingly think of immigration as illegal when the issue is raised, their attitudes are soured.

Read the rest on the Niskanen Center here.