(NewsNation Now) – Americans are widely divided on how to deal with immigration, with one exception: A dominant majority – perhaps larger than ever – backs a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in the countries, according to a new NewsNation/Decision Desk poll from HQ.
The poll suggests that despite a crisis at the border with a growing influx of undocumented immigrants crossing the country, momentum continues to grow to grant citizenship to those already here.
Nearly 70% of Americans support this path to citizenship, according to the NewsNation poll, which polled more than 1,000 registered voters over the weekend. Generally, in the past, the overall support for a path did not go beyond 50.
“Whether you think there should be more or less immigration, whether or not you think there should be a wall or not, 70% of Americans think, ‘Hey, if you’re already here illegally, you should at least give them a path to citizenship,” said Scott Tranter, adviser to the decision office headquarters, who conducted the research on behalf of NewsNation.
Migration researcher Ernesto Castañeda, professor of sociology and director of the American University’s immigration lab, said this poll and similar polls show how much lawmakers need to look at the issue of immigration.
“Some national advisers in the White House mistakenly believe that if Biden pushes for a pathway to citizenship and programs to regularize undocumented people, there would be a political price to pay in future elections,” Castañeda said.
Tranter added, “It’s a clear winner out there for the Biden administration, or any administration or any politician, to look and say, ‘Hey, I want to be for something that the majority of Americans support.’ ”
Americans’ feelings about the path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in the country have fluctuated in recent years. The country has generally been strongly in favor of citizenship for DREAMers, the term for undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children. The percentage also remains high if there are requirements on the pathway to citizenship.
But Americans who favor a path to citizenship begin to dip when the question is directed at adults or there are fewer requirements for obtaining citizenship.
Overall, Americans said immigration is an important issue, according to the NewsNation/Decision Desk HQ poll. 86% of respondents said immigration was somewhat or very important.
“Part of what you’re seeing is an appetite for reform that’s been going on for nearly four decades,” said Shannon Gleeson, a law and history professor at Cornell University.
The last major immigration reform passed was in 1986, Gleeson said.
But unlike a path to citizenship, Americans are split on nearly everything else related to immigration, the poll found. (The poll had a 3% margin of error):
- It’s nearly 50-50 on issues surrounding the effectiveness of the border wall and support for “capture and release” policies for women, children and families apprehended at the border.
- There is also no real consensus on whether illegal immigration negatively affects communities. .
- Americans are also divided on whether to increase, decrease or maintain immigration levels.
The only other area where respondents showed broad consensus was on whether undocumented men traveling alone should be released into the United States if apprehended at the border. More than 66% of respondents rejected the idea of such a policy being in place, according to the NewsNation/Decision Desk HQ poll.
“It’s hard to get 60 percent or more of Americans to agree on anything,” Tranter said.
Older voters were even less supportive of the proposal. More than three-quarters of respondents over the age of 55 said they opposed the release of single men in the country. Meanwhile, 47% of people aged 18-34 said they would support him.
“If you’re younger, you’re a little more lenient with illegal immigrants than if you’re older,” Tranter said. “This poll shows that this age gap is getting a little bit bigger.”
The NewsNation/Decision Desk HQ poll found the country is equally divided on the issue of border security. About 51% of respondents felt that the border wall was effective in preventing illegal immigration.
The polarization of views on the southern border, security and policies regarding undocumented immigrants has only widened as the situation at the border has grown tense. Last year, a record 1.7 million people were stopped at the border. By this spring, US border officials are expected to make up to 9,000 border arrests a day, a number significantly higher than last year’s peak.
The southern border barrier was never completed – construction was halted when the Biden administration took power – leaving miles of border land unfenced. In Yuma, Arizona, border officials say huge gaps in the border wall allow up to 1,000 migrants to enter the country each day. However, immigration experts disagree with the effectiveness of the wall.
“There’s no evidence that an accumulation of borders necessarily keeps people from coming,” Gleeson said. “What this has a lot of impact on is how deadly this trip is, as well as the scale of human trafficking and contraband-type crime that has emerged.”
Despite the divide, the poll shows there was significantly more support (48%) for increasing spending on border security, rather than cutting funding (20%).
The political sphere bears a great responsibility for how immigration is framed as a public debate, Gleeson said.
“I don’t think public opinion should necessarily be sort of the main litmus test for what kind of policies we’re willing to accept at the federal level,” Gleeson said.
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