Majority of Americans say children who have crossed the border should be treated as refugees

A new poll suggests that America is perhaps open to accepting the children crossing the border illegally. That's different from much of what you see on TV.

Darron Cummings/AP
This July 18 photo shows demonstrators on an overpass in Indianapolis protesting against people who immigrate to the United States illegally.

A new poll says that the vast majority of Americans support letting the children who have come across the border from Central America stay in the United States as refugees:

Nearly 70 percent of Americans believe the undocumented Central American children entering along the U.S.-Mexico border should be treated as refugees, a new poll shows.

According to a poll released Tuesday by the Public Religion Research Institute, 69 percent of those surveyed believe U.S. authorities should treat the children as refugees and allow them to stay in the country if it is determined it is not safe for them to return to their home country. Twenty-seven percent of Americans say the children should be treated as illegal immigrants and should be deported.

Seventy-one percent also say they mostly or completely agree that the U.S. should provide refuge and protection for all people who come to the U.S. if they are fleeing serious danger in their home country, the poll found. But 59 percent of Americans say they mostly or completely agree with the statement that the allowing the children to stay will increase illegal immigration.


Seventy-nine percent of Americans call the situation along the border a “crisis” or a “serious” problem and 80 percent said they had heard at least a little about the border situation.

This is one of the first polls that I’ve seen trying to survey public opinion on the issue of the border crisis since it became a prominent issue in the news last month. Given some of the vehemently negatively reactions that we have seen to these children and the other migrants that have arrived at the border in areas ranging from California and Arizona to even Virginia and Massachusetts, it does come as somewhat of a surprise. However, the result is also consistent with other recent polling on immigration issues generally that have shown the American public as a whole, as opposed to Republicans, conservatives, and people who associate themselves with the tea party movement, as being far more open to the idea of immigration reform, granting legal status to people who are in the country illegally, and expanding the opportunities for legal immigration. The American people are, in other words, a compassionate people and this seems to be just another reflection of all of that. When we see the screaming mobs in various parts of the country, or the rhetoric of political leaders like Texas Gov. Rick Perry, we should keep in mind that they don’t necessarily represent the American people as a whole.

As for the border crisis as a whole, while it has slipped from the headlines in the wake of things such as the conflict in Gaza and the downing of Flight 17 in Ukraine, there is still apparently a steady stream of migrants coming to the border area. By some accounts, the numbers for July have been lower than in previous months, but this may be as much due to the fact that it is July and weather conditions make travel more dangerous as anything else. Meanwhile, Congress is mere days away from going on a five-week vacation, which will be followed by a September in which they are only scheduled to be in session for less than 20 days before heading off for the final push to the midterm elections. So far, there seems to be only the slimmest of hopes that any bill to address the border crisis will pass before they leave town at the end of the week. Right now, the House is scheduled to vote on a bill that includes some $650 million in additional funding, which is only a small portion of the $3.7 billion the president is asking for. However, it’s not even certain that such a bill can pass the House, never mind the Senate, and it isn’t at all clear that the president would consider the bill acceptable. The most likely outcome is that nothing will be passed before the end of the week, and that the issue will get largely ignored during the short September session when a budget must be completed. Instead, it will just end up being another whipping boy during the midterm campaigns, and nothing at all will get done as these children continue coming across the border.

Doug Mataconis appears on the Outside the Beltway blog at

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