Vast Majority of Americans Say Illegal Immigrants Should Stay
Policy + Politics

Vast Majority of Americans Say Illegal Immigrants Should Stay


An overwhelming 72 percent of Americans say that undocumented immigrants should be allowed to remain legally in the country provided they meet certain requirements, according to a comprehensive new survey of attitudes about the politically charged immigration issue.

And of those Americans who believe it’s time for illegal immigrants to come out of the shadows, most of them believe that undocumented immigrants should be allowed to apply for U.S. citizenship, according to the new Pew Research Center survey.

Related: Study Finds Illegal Immigrants Pay $11.8B in Taxes

Beyond that, however, the public is sharply divided over immigration related issues that have stymied lawmakers and the Obama administration and that are certain to be front and center as the 2016 presidential campaign begins to heat up this summer.

Little more than half say immigrants today strengthen the country because of their hard work and talents, while 41 percent insist that immigrants are a burden because they take jobs, housing and health care. The portion of the respondents saying that immigrants have strengthen the country has declined six percentage points since last year.

Immigration reform is a highly charged issue for many Americans and many of them express conflicted opinions. For instance, a majority of Republicans (56 percent) supports a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants; yet at the same time, far more Republicans than Democrats say immigrants are a burden on the country (63 percent).

Among Democrats and independents – most of whom favor a path to legal status for those who slipped into the country unlawfully – most say immigrants actually strengthen the country.

Related: 21 Surprising Facts About Illegal Immigration

Finally, most Americans reject the idea frequently expressed by anti-immigration reform advocates that providing a path to legal status essentially “rewards” them for bad behavior. Nearly six in ten say they do not think of a path to legal status in those terms, while 36 percent say it is “like rewarding them for doing something wrong.”

The survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted May 12-18 among 2,002 adults, should be grist for Republican and Democratic Party leaders and presidential candidates in the coming months.

Efforts at overhauling the nation’s immigration laws have been stymied by House Republicans’ refusal to consider comprehensive immigration reform – including a possible path to citizenship. And President Obama’s highly controversial executive orders that would protect millions of illegal immigrants from the threat of deportation are caught up in legal challenges in the courts.

On the presidential campaign trail, Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton has declared her support for immigration reform, including a path to citizenship, because it “strengthens families, strengthens our economy and strengthens our country.”

Related: More Illegal Immigrants Snagging White-Collar Jobs

Former Florida governor Jeb Bush, a leading candidate for the GOP presidential nomination, is one of the few Republicans who had wholeheartedly embraced a path to citizenship. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-F), who co-authored a Senate-passed immigration reform bill two years ago that provided for a path to citizenship, subsequently disavowed that portion of the legislation under pressure from far right Republicans.

One other finding that should be of concern to the GOPJust 34 percent of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents say the party is doing a good job in representing their views on illegal immigration, while 59 percent say the GOP is not doing a good job.

It wasn’t clear from the polling results whether those complaining that their party wasn’t adequately representing their views believe that the GOP is being too tough in their stands on illegal immigrants or not tough enough.Democrats gave their party more positive evaluations in dealing with this issue. Fifty-one percent of Democrats and Democratic leaners said the party is doing a good job in representing their views on illegal immigration, while 43 percent disagree.

“Democrats who support a path to legal status are more likely than those who oppose it to say their party does a good job of representing their views on illegal immigration,” the study said. “Among Republicans, both supporters and opponents of legal status for immigrants here illegally think the GOP is not doing a good job representing their views.”

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