Today is world refugee today. Despite America’s long tradition of acting as a “sanctuary from misrule” to use Thomas Jefferson’s phrase, the idea of allowing refugees to the United States is an idea that has not received majority since the start of World War II. But in recent years, Americans have become much more favorable toward refugees than in prior years.

In my recent study on public opinion polling on immigration, I present evidence that although the public’s opinions on refugees are definitely still mixed, refugee crises since the late 1990s have produced a decidedly more humanitarian response from Americans than in prior years. Here is the graph from the report showing the level of support and opposition to new refugees from 1939 to 2014.

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As can be seen, the level of support still has not risen to a majority based on an average of polls taken during last year’s Central American child migrant crisis. But rather than strongly opposed like they have been in the past, Americans are almost evenly split on the question with some polls indeed finding majority support.

Strangely, the increase in support has actually corresponded with a decrease in refugee admissions since the mid-1990s. In 1990, America admitted over 120,000 refugees each year. That number has since dropped to less than 70,000 in 2014.


This trend should reverse. Americans should think of the tragedies that have unfolded as a result of closed border policies in the past and reconsider America’s historically low refugee admissions. Does America really want to recreate sending away Jews and others to an early death?

Thomas Jefferson was right. America should once again proclaim itself to be a “sanctuary from misrule” and open its doors to those who flee persecution abroad.