Most Americans Favor Giving Illegal Immigrants a Chance

by Lydia Saad

Few back mass deportation option

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- Speaking at an Arizona Border Patrol station in early April, President George W. Bush renewed his call for Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill this year. Bush favors a combination of strict border control and greater enforcement of penalties against employers who hire illegal workers, along with creating lawful ways for temporary workers to enter the country, and for those already here illegally to become citizens.

A USA Today/Gallup poll conducted April 13-15, 2007, finds the American public in broad agreement with Bush's desire to give illegal immigrants a path to citizenship. Forty-two percent of Americans say their preferred approach to dealing with illegal immigrants is to require them to leave the United States, but then allow them to return and become U.S. citizens if they meet certain requirements. Another 36% would prefer a more liberal system that allows illegal immigrants to remain in the United States while they work toward meeting requirements needed to gain citizenship.

The hard-line approach to illegal immigrants -- requiring them to leave the country with no opportunity to return -- is favored by just 14% of the public.

Gallup asked a similar question, last updated in March 2007, in which the majority of respondents (59%) also favored the path to citizenship approach, but a slightly higher percentage (24%) favored deportation for illegal immigrants.

Republicans Generally Amenable to Legalizing Illegal Immigrants

While the large majority of Americans favor making some form of accommodation for illegal immigrants, reaching consensus on the specific requirements for obtaining legal residency or citizenship has proved difficult in Washington, D.C.

Some 11 million to 12 million immigrants are estimated to be living in the United States illegally. The White House has coordinated with Senate Republicans on draft legislation requiring undocumented workers to pay $3,500 for three-year work visas in order to remain here, and requiring illegal immigrants seeking permanent residency to return to their home countries and then pay a $10,000 fine for re-entry to the United States.

This approach is opposed by liberal-oriented political groups and politicians who want amnesty for illegal immigrants without the barrier of heavy fines. It is also opposed by members of the far right -- such as former Arizona Rep. J.D. Hayworth -- who consider anything less than mass deportation of illegal residents to be sanctioning criminal behavior. However, the approach does tend to mesh with the views of rank-and-file Republicans.

Given the four options for dealing with illegal immigrants offered in the latest Gallup Poll, roughly half of Republicans (including independents who lean Republican) favor Bush's general approach of requiring immigrants to leave the country, but then re-admitting them contingent on their meeting certain requirements over a period of time. A much smaller segment (27%) favors the more relaxed form of amnesty that allows illegal immigrants to remain in the United States through the citizenship process. And, at the other end of the spectrum, only 14% of Republicans take the hard-line position that illegal immigrants should be sent out of the country with no opportunity to return.

Democrats (including independents who lean Democratic) tend to favor letting illegal immigrants remain in the United States while they work toward their citizenship, but nearly as many favor the harsher approach of requiring them to apply for citizenship from their home countries.

Few Detect Progress

In his April 9 speech, Bush praised the "amazing progress" that measures included in 2006 federal immigration legislation -- including increased fortification of the border and high-tech surveillance equipment -- have had in reducing the number of people illegally crossing into the United States at the Mexican border.

However, few Americans share this perspective. According to the mid-April USA Today/Gallup poll, only 12% of Americans believe the United States has made progress in dealing with illegal immigration in the past year. The rest are divided between those perceiving no change and those saying the country has lost ground.

Residents of the West are a bit more likely than the rest of the country to believe progress has been made on illegal immigration over the past year; nevertheless, more than twice as many in this region believe the country has lost ground as say progress has been made.

Perception of Changes in Dealing With Illegal Immigration Over Past Year
by Region
Apr 13-15, 2007

East

Midwest

South

West

%

%

%

%

Made progress

11

9

9

20

Stayed same

41

50

43

34

Lost ground

45

37

44

44



Only slight political differences are seen on this question, with Republicans a bit more likely than Democrats to say progress has been made; however, roughly 4 in 10 members of both parties say the country has lost ground.

Perception of Changes in Dealing With Illegal Immigration Over Past Year
by Party Identification
Apr 13-15, 2007

Republican/
Lean Republican

Democratic/
Lean Democratic

%

%

Made progress

16

9

Stayed same

40

45

Lost ground

41

44



A Family Affair

One aspect of the White House immigration plan -- a reportedly controversial one -- is to give greater preference than in the past to skilled workers, and, in so doing, to scale back the number of immigrants admitted who are seeking to join family members already here.

While the American public does not exhibit a strong preference on this question, the plurality says that, in considering the two reasons for admitting immigrants to the United States, immigrants who have family members already living in the United States should be given priority over those who might contribute to the American workforce by virtue of being highly educated and highly skilled.

The majority of Democrats believe the government should give higher priority to immigrants with family already living in the United States, while Republicans tend to say admitting people with advanced education and job skills should be the priority.

Perception of Changes in Dealing With Illegal Immigration Over Past Year
by Party Identification
Apr 13-15, 2007

Republican/
Lean Republican

Democratic/
Lean Democratic

%

%

Highly educated/skilled

48

30

Have family in U.S.

40

56

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,007 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted April 13-15, 2007. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

Next, we have a question about people who apply to immigrate to the United States from other countries,

26. In deciding whether people from other countries should be allowed to legally stay in the United States, should the government give higher priority to -- [ROTATED: people who are highly educated and highly skilled workers, (or) people who have family members already living in the United States]?

 

Highly
educated/
Highly skilled

Have family
members
already
living in
the U.S.

No
opinion

2007 Apr 13-15

38%

49

14

Now thinking about immigrants who come to the United States illegally,

27. Which comes closest to your view about what the government policy should be toward illegal immigrants currently residing in the United States? Should the government -- [ROTATED: require illegal immigrants to leave the U.S. and not allow them to return, require illegal immigrants to leave the U.S., but allow them to return temporarily to work, require illegal immigrants to leave the U.S., but allow them to return and become U.S. citizens if they meet certain requirements over a period of time, (or) allow illegal immigrants to remain in the United States and become U.S. citizens if they meet certain requirements over a period of time]?

 

2007 Apr 13-15

%

Require to leave, not allow to return

14

Require to leave, allow to return temporarily to work

6

Require to leave, allow to return and become citizens if requirements met

42

Allow to remain in the U.S. and become citizens if requirements met

36

 

No opinion

2

28. Do you think the U.S. has made progress or lost ground in dealing with illegal immigration in the past year, or has there been no change?

 

Made
progress

Lost
ground

No
change

No
opinion

2007 Apr 13-15

12%

43

42

3

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Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/27307/Most-Americans-Favor-Giving-Illegal-Immigrants-Chance.aspx
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