Most Americans back legal status for immigrants

WASHINGTON — A majority of Americans support allowing immigrants living in the country illegally to stay and be granted legal status, according to a new poll released Thursday.

The survey conducted by the Pew Research Center found that 72 percent of Americans support legal status for such immigrants.

The poll found that 56 percent of Republicans agree that immigrants living in the U.S. illegally should be able to stay as long as they meet certain criteria, as did 8 in 10 Democrats and three-quarters of independents. The poll question did not specify what those requirements might be.

At the same time, 63 percent of Republicans also say immigrants — those in the U.S. legally and illegally — are a burden on the country when asked to choose, while 27 percent say they strengthen the country.

Among Americans overall, more say that immigrants strengthen the country (51 percent) than say they burden the country (41 percent).

The Pew survey also found that about half of Americans think a lot more can be done to secure the nation’s border. Border security is a common starting point among many Republicans for any plan to overhaul the country’s immigration system.

Asked to specify which they support, 42 percent of Americans said that immigrants currently in the United States illegally should be allowed to apply for citizenship, while 26 percent said they should be able to apply for permanent residency, not citizenship.

The distinction between those two options could be important over the course of the 2016 presidential campaign, with Hillary Clinton supporting a path to citizenship and some Republicans stopping at offering legal residency.

The Pew survey also suggests a divide between Republican voters and GOP lawmakers. Researchers found that only 34 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents said the party is adequately representing their views on illegal immigration.

About half of Democrats, and those whose views lean toward the Democratic Party’s, say that party is doing a good job representing their view on the issue.

Support for allowing immigrants in the country illegally to stay can vary depending on how survey questions are worded. A recent Associated Press-GfK poll found that about half of Americans and a third of Republicans support either a path to citizenship or legal status, but that survey did not specify that immigrants must “meet certain requirements” to qualify, as the Pew survey did.

Still, the AP-GfK poll found that most Republicans could at least imagine voting for a candidate who wanted to keep in place President Barack Obama’s executive action to postpone many deportations in place.

Last year, Obama announced plans to expand a program that shields certain immigrants from deportation and allows them to legally work in the U.S. The expanded program, which could benefit more than 4 million people, is on hold after a federal judge in Texas ordered it halted pending a trial to determine if the effort is legal.

The Pew survey was conducted by telephone using landline and cellphones among 2,002 adults between May 12 and May 18. The poll’s margin of error was plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

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