Americans split over public education for illegal immigrants, poll shows

Few favor government benefits for illegal immigrants, a Monitor/TIPP poll shows. Less than half back admitting them to public schools.

The Christian Science Monitor is teaming up with TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence (TIPP) to poll Americans on important public policy issues.
Rich Clabaugh/Staff

Maybe it's the recession. Maybe it's the fight over Arizona's tough new law to step up apprehension of illegal immigrants or the headline news about border violence. For whatever reason, Americans are in no mood to coddle people who are in the United States illegally, even if they are hardworking and peaceable.

Most American adults today oppose any sort of government benefit for illegal immigrants, according to a recent Christian Science Monitor/TIPP poll.

Even K-12 education for children brought to the US under the radar by their parents – a benefit that the US Supreme Court has said states cannot withhold – does not enjoy majority backing. Support for educating such children stands at 47 percent, compared with 49 percent who oppose it. The results may hearten two gubernatorial hopefuls who have urged challenging the relevant 1982 high court ruling: Republican Terry Branstad in Iowa and third-party candidate Tom Tancredo in Colorado. Other GOP candidates for governor have said they would push for tough laws like Arizona's, but Mr. Branstad and Mr. Tancredo alone appear ready to test the Supreme Court education ruling that discrimination based on immigration status serves "no compelling state interest."

Regionally, support for educating young illegal immigrants is weakest in the West, which has absorbed the lion's share of newcomers in the past generation. Forty-two percent of Westerners support public schooling for such children, compared with 47 percent in the South, 50 percent in the Midwest, and 52 percent in the Northeast.

For illegal immigrants, the findings in the Monitor/TIPP poll get worse:

•One in 4 respondents says the immigrants should be eligible for food stamps and Medicaid (health care for the poor).

•Eighteen percent are willing for illegal immigrants to receive access to public housing. That issue came to the fore with news reports that President Obama's aunt from Kenya, who stayed in the US illegally from 2004 until gaining asylum this year, lived during that time in Boston public housing.

•Support for allowing undocumented college students to qualify for federal or state education grants is just shy of 18 percent.

Legislation was recently introduced in the Senate to tighten borders, crack down on employers of illegal immigrants, and provide an eventual path to citizenship to undocumented workers who are otherwise law-abiding. Past attempts to bring similar bills to the Senate floor have failed, and the new bill is not expected to fare any better in what remains of the current Congress.

The Monitor/TIPP poll was conducted Sept. 7-12 and has a margin of error of 3.3 percentage points.

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