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Many Americans falsely think migrants are bringing most of the fentanyl entering U.S.


A new NPR/Ipsos poll shows that misleading and false claims about immigration are widespread, and their reach may be growing. Our poll finds that large numbers of Americans hold a range of misconceptions about immigrants, from how likely they are to use public benefits to their role in smuggling illegal drugs into the U.S. NPR's Joel Rose reports.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: Let's start with a quiz. True or false? Most of the opioid fentanyl that's entering the U.S. is smuggled in by unauthorized migrants crossing the border illegally. That's one of the questions we asked in this poll because fentanyl seizures are up, and it's become a big election-year talking point for Republicans.


RON DESANTIS: You have people coming across illegally from countries all over the world. And so what has that gotten us? We now, in this country, have the leading cause of death for people 18 to 45 as fentanyl overdose.

ROSE: Notice how Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida jumps quickly from the record number of migrant arrests at the southern border to fentanyl overdose deaths. But experts say that's not an accurate picture.

VICTOR M MANJARREZ: My name is Victor M. Manjarrez Jr. I am the director for the Center for Law and Human Behavior at the University of Texas, El Paso.

ROSE: Victor Manjarrez served in the Border Patrol for more than 20 years, retiring as the sector chief in Tucson. Manjarrez says it's true that fentanyl is crossing the border - a lot of fentanyl - but it's not coming over on the backs of migrants, who are often turning themselves in to seek asylum.

MANJARREZ: The probability they're going to carry some kind of illicit narcotic is probably close to zero.

ROSE: Manjarrez says some fentanyl is brought in by cartels who are using migrants as a distraction, but the vast majority is smuggled through official ports of entry, hidden in cars and tractor-trailers.

MANJARREZ: When you look at the chaos and clutter that occurs at a port of entry, just with the legitimate traffic - you know, trucks and personal vehicles - and so if you're looking at a couple of pounds of fentanyl hidden in that chaos - you know, if you're the bad guy, you kind of like your odds.

ROSE: So the correct answer to our question is false. Most of the fentanyl entering the country is not smuggled in by migrants. But if you got it wrong, you're in good company. In our poll, 6 out of 10 Republicans did, too. The latest NPR/Ipsos poll shows that misleading and false claims about immigration are making deep inroads with the American public, and not just about fentanyl. More than half of Republicans say - incorrectly - that immigrants are more likely to use public benefits than the native-born population, even though many immigrants don't actually qualify for most federal benefits. And large numbers of poll respondents say immigrants are more likely to commit crimes, even though studies have shown repeatedly that they're not.

SOPHIA JORDAN WALLACE: Once it gets out there, it's hard to correct, which means we have to deal with the consequences.

ROSE: Sophia Jordan Wallace teaches political science at the University of Washington, where she studied false and misleading claims about immigration.

WALLACE: There's a pretty long history of using different stereotypes and different negative framing of immigrants that have sometimes distorted facts intentionally.

ROSE: Wallace says there's a tradition in American politics of blaming immigrants for real problems the country is facing as a way to mobilize voters.

WALLACE: Regardless of whether there actually is an empirical connection between immigration and immigrants and those problems.

ROSE: Our poll suggests that the reach of some false and misleading claims may be growing. Four years ago, we asked if, quote, "immigrants are more likely to commit crimes or be incarcerated than the U.S.-born population." Back then, more than 60% of respondents correctly identified that statement as false. But when we asked again this year, less than half got it right. Joel Rose, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF MIRAA MAY SONG, "INTERNET TROLLS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.