What Are Pastors’ Views on Illegal Immigration?

While 80% of pastors today say the government has the responsibility to stop illegal immigration, that’s down from 87% in a 2014 LifeWay Research survey.

As U.S. lawmakers continue to debate the best approach to illegal immigration, most Protestant pastors say the solution should be multifaceted. Nashville-based LifeWay Research surveyed 1,000 Protestant pastors on their views on illegal immigration and how the church should view those in the country illegally.

Eighty percent say the government has the responsibility to stop illegal immigration, while 9% disagree and 11% are not sure.

Meanwhile, 70% of pastors say they are in favor of an immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for those who are currently in the country illegally. Seventeen percent disagree and 13% are not sure.

Three-quarters of pastors (76%) say Christians have a responsibility to assist immigrants even if they are in the country illegally, while 14% disagree and 10% are not sure.

Currently, almost 3 in 10 pastors say their churches are involved locally in assisting immigrants. Seven in 10 say they are not currently involved.

“Lawmakers have left many of the bigger immigration questions unresolved often voicing ‘either-or’ positions,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research. “Pastors don’t seem as conflicted desiring improvement in both border security and a path to citizenship for those here illegally.”

Stopping illegal immigration

While 80% of pastors today say the government has the responsibility to stop illegal immigration, that’s down from 87% in a 2014 LifeWay Research survey.

“Among these questions, stopping illegal immigration registers the strongest sentiment from pastors,” said McConnell. “But support for this is now more in line with caring for immigrants already in the country and establishing a path to citizenship.”

Today, African-American pastors are more likely than white pastors to disagree that the government carries the responsibility to stop illegal immigration (21% to 8%).

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Those in the Northeast (15%) and Midwest (12%) are more likely to disagree than pastors in the South (5%).

Education, age and denomination all factor into how likely a pastor is to say the government bears the responsibility to stop illegal immigration.

Pastors 65 and older are more likely to see that as the government’s job than pastors 44 and younger (85% to 75%).

Those with a bachelor’s degree or less (87%) are more likely than those with more education (77%).

Evangelical pastors (87%) are more likely to agree than mainline pastors (74%).

Pentecostals (94%) and Baptists (89%) are more likely to agree than Church of Christ pastors (79%), Lutherans (74%), Presbyterian or Reformed (74%), or Methodists (68%).

Path to citizenship

More pastors today favor immigration reform that provides a path to citizenship for immigrants currently in the country illegally.

Since 2014, the%age of pastors who favor a path to citizenship has grown 12%age points from 58% to 70% today. The%age who disagreed was cut in half—34% to 17%.

“For immigrants in the country illegally, there are no real options for redemption,” noted McConnell. “That doesn’t sit well with pastors—the majority of whom were ready for lawmakers to offer a means of making restitution and gaining legal status years ago.”

In 2019, African-American pastors are the ethnicity most likely to agree (91%), while pastors 65 and older are the age range least likely to agree (62%).

Mainline pastors (80%) are more likely to back a path to citizenship than evangelical ones (66%).

Methodist (86%) and Presbyterian or Reformed (80%) pastors are more likely to agree than Church of Christ (65%), Baptist (60%) and Pentecostal (59%) pastors.

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Support for immigrants

Compared to 2014, a similar number of pastors say Christians have a responsibility to assist immigrants even if they are here illegally—76% today and 79% then.

Evangelical pastors are more likely to disagree than mainline pastors (16% to 10%).

Pastors 65 and older are least likely to agree (67%).

Those in the Northeast (85%) are more likely to agree than those in the South (74%) or Midwest (74%).

Holiness (88%) and Presbyterian or Reformed (87%) are more likely to agree than Lutherans (74%), Church of Christ pastors (73%), Baptists (70%), or Pentecostals (66%).

Almost 3 in 10 pastors say their church is currently helping immigrants (29%), while 70% say they are not.

Mainline pastors (33%) are more likely to say they are assisting than evangelical ones (26%).

Lutheran (40%), Methodist (33%) and Presbyterian or Reformed pastors (35%) are more likely to say they are helping than Baptist pastors (23%).

Pastors of churches with 250 or more in attendance are more likely to say they are currently assisting immigrants than pastors of churches with less than 50 in attendance (37% to 23%).

“Pastors place just as much responsibility on their congregations as they do legislators,” McConnell said. “More than twice as many pastors say Christians should help immigrants than say their church is personally involved assisting local immigrant neighbors today.”

For more information, visit LifeWayResearch.com.

Read our January/February 2019 feature on Immigration here.