Americans still favor immigration reform, despite political friction, study finds


Near the White House on Thursday, demonstrators with United We Dream, an advocacy group that focuses on young immigrants and their families, protest U.S. deportation policies. (Marlon Correa/The Washington Post)
June 10, 2014

Despite a year of contentious national debate and several stalled congressional proposals, Americans still overwhelmingly agree that illegal immigrants living in the United States should be allowed to remain in the country and seek some form of legal status, according to a survey released Tuesday.

The survey, conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution, found that 62 percent of Americans favor allowing illegal immigrants a way to become citizens, compared with 63 percent a year ago. An additional 17 percent said in the new poll that illegal immigrants should be able to become legal residents but not full citizens. Nineteen percent said they should be deported.

The poll shows Americans having a slightly more positive view about the role of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants living in the United States. They are equally likely — about 45 to 46 percent — to say that illegal immigration helps the economy by providing low-cost labor as to say that it hurts the economy by driving down wages. In March 2013, 56 percent said the economic impact of illegal immigrants was negative.

The study’s authors said the stability in views on a “path to citizenship” came during a period when more Americans are expressing dissatisfaction with President Obama’s job performance and the direction of the country. The percent of Americans who are dissatisfied with the direction of the country rose from 58 percent in March 2013 to 64 percent today.

“Even though more people disapprove of the job President Obama is doing and with the country’s direction, that didn’t seem to affect their attitudes on immigration reform. If the issue was more closely tied with President Obama, you’d think support would go down,” said Robert P. Jones, chief executive of the Public Religion Research Institute. “There is no correlation.”

Stability of views aside, Americans place immigration reform far below jobs, the economy and health care as a priority. The survey closely tracked changes in attitudes by making calls to the same households that were polled nationwide in the 2013 study.

The new survey found that 58 percent of Americans agree that the growing number of new immigrants strengthens American society, while 37 percent say the trend harms society by threatening traditional values. In 2013, 54 percent said newcomers strengthen American society.

The poll found that support for blanket deportation remains strong among Republicans. It also found strong correlations between TV news viewing habits and degrees of positive or negative opinion about immigrants and immigration.

The survey found that “the most powerful independent predictor” of people’s opposition to citizenship for illegal immigrants is whether they say they rely on Fox News as their most trusted source of information on politics and current events.

People who say they rely most on the left-leaning MSNBC are strongly in favor of citizenship, Jones said, but not as dramatically as Fox News watchers are opposed. That is also a much smaller group, he said. One-quarter of Americans say they most trust Fox, compared with 5 percent who say that about MSNBC, Jones said.

The survey reported that Republicans were almost three times more likely than Democrats to favor identifying and deporting illegal immigrants.

Looking toward the upcoming midterm congressional elections, the survey found that Republicans were likely to benefit from what the report’s authors called an electoral “enthusiasm gap” among both Hispanics and young adults. Both groups said they were less likely to vote than before, in part because of dis­appointment with Obama.

Majorities of all religious groups support a path to citizenship at roughly the same rates they did a year ago — with the exception of white evangelical Protestants. Forty-eight percent favor allowing immigrants a chance to become citizens, compared with March 2013, when 56 percent did.

Michelle Boorstein is the Post’s religion reporter, where she reports on the busy marketplace of American religion.
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