Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump continues to draw roars of approval on the campaign trail with his anti-immigrant rhetoric, including his vow to deport more than 11 million illegal immigrants, build a security wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and even repeal the constitutional birthright of people born to illegal immigrants in this country.
But while his hot rhetoric continues to rev up his conservative base and drives up his polling numbers, most of his key policies are at odds with the views of a majority of Americans, including most Republicans, according to a new national survey by the Pew Research Center.
On a central question of whether illegal immigrants in this country should be granted an opportunity to achieve legal status and remain here, large majorities in both parties continue to support that approach, according to the new survey. Seventy-four percent agree there should be a way for them to remain in this country legally, if certain requirements are met.
While Trump and others are calling for a wholesale deportation of illegal immigrants, a handful of other GOP candidates including former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ohio Gov. John Kasich are advocating a path to legal status – if not citizenship.
Sixty-six percent of Republicans and 80 percent of Democrats interviewed favor a path to legal status. Many of those in favor of providing legal status also say that undocumented immigrants should be allowed to apply for U.S. citizenship (47 percent of the public), while 24 percent favor a path to permanent residency but not to citizenship.
Nearly four in ten Americans say they would favor changing the Constitution so that parents must be legal residents in order for their newborn children to become U.S. citizens, while 60 percent say they favor leaving the Constitution as is. However, Democrats and Republicans don’t see eye to eye on this question.
Trump has argued that the 14th Amendment right to citizenship for all persons “born or naturalized in the United States” can be modified in the courts. He has fueled a controversy over the constitutional guarantee by decrying illegal immigrants who come to this country for the sole purpose of having “anchor babies” who would qualify for government assistance for the rest of their lives.
By 75 percent to 23 percent, Democrats say they are against altering the Constitution to bar future birthright citizenship, while Republicans are almost evenly divided on this question – 53 percent in favor of changing the Constitution and 44 percent opposed.
Whites are far more supportive (44 percent in favor) of changing the Constitution than are blacks (26 percent) or Hispanics (17 percent), according to the survey.
Only on the question of whether the government should build a fence along the entire U.S.-Mexican border is the country sorely divided. Some 46 percent of Americans favor building a fence or wall to prevent further illegal immigration while 48 percent are opposed – which represents little change since 2011, according to Pew.
The proposed wall is the most politically divisive of the controversial immigration proposals. An overwhelming 73 percent of Republicans support a border fence, while Democrats are opposed to it, 66 percent to 23 percent. Among independents, 43 percent favor a border fence contrasted with 52 percent who oppose it.
Trump has boasted that as a real estate executive he has the know-how to build a wall along the entire 1,989 miles of the southwest border for relatively little money and then force Mexico to pay for it through tariffs and fees. “I want it to be so beautiful because maybe someday they're going to call it the Trump wall,” he said during one speech in New Hampshire.
Without specifically naming him, President Obama derided Trump’s immigration policies, including building a wall, in a recent speech to Latino political leaders. "The greatness of America comes not from building walls," Obama told the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute anniversary awards gala. "The anti-immigrant sentiment that has infected our politics is not new, but it is wrong.”