Most in US wouldn't eject illegal immigrants; a minority would OK citizenship

Almost 3 in 4 Americans support a legal status for illegal immigrants, new poll finds. But support is lower for a path to full US citizenship. The public is divided, too, over the jump in deportations.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, at the podium, is joined by Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Ruben Hinojosa (D) of Texas, to her left, and other lawmakers and activists as she calls for action on immigration reform on Capitol Hill on Dec. 12, 2013.

Immigrants living illegally in the US don't need to be kicked out if they meet certain requirements, say almost three-quarters of Americans. But support wanes on the issue of allowing such immigrants a path to full-fledged US citizenship, with just 46 percent in favor.

That result, from a new national survey by the Pew Research Center, implies that a goodly share of the public would back giving undocumented immigrants – estimated at about 11 million – some kind of in-between status. That idea is included in a new set of guiding principles drafted by leaders in the GOP-led House of Representatives, where immigration reform legislation is currently stalled.

The Pew poll also found a sharp divide over the merits of higher deportations of illegal immigrants, with Democrats more opposed than Republicans, and Hispanics more concerned than whites and blacks.

Deportations began rising in 1992, reaching a record annual high of 419,384 in 2012, according to US Department of Homeland Security statistics. (They fell to 368,644 last year, according to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement statistics, though that was not mentioned in the survey questions.)

More Democrats (53 percent) said that the increase in deportations was a bad thing, and more Republicans (55 percent) responded positively to the increase.

The idea of a path to citizenship also remains hotly contested, showing little change from previous surveys. 

There does appear to be some common ground on the notion of at least granting legal status to undocumented immigrants. Support is greatest among Democrats, at 81 percent, but 64 percent of Republicans also favor the idea. A Pew study last fall suggested that even Hispanics feel that finding a way for undocumented individuals to work in the US legally is more important than obtaining citizenship for them.

As for immigration reform legislation, Democrats view it as more pressing than do Republicans – and they appear to be getting more impatient with Washington's lack of movement. In another Pew study last June, 53 percent of Democrats reported feeling strongly that Congress should pass legislation within a year. In this poll, conducted Feb. 14-23, that number jumped to 60 percent among Democrats overall and 66 percent among liberal Democrats.

The Senate has approved an immigration reform package. In the GOP-led House, the Republican caucus does not appear to be ready to tackle the issue of immigration reform this year.

A similar poll released by Gallup last June found similar levels of support for legal status for undocumented immigrants already in the country, but also indicated that 83 percent of Americans would like to see the government tighten border controls to stem the flow of illegal immigrants.

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