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In U.S., 65% Favor Path to Citizenship for Illegal Immigrants

17 Aug

PRINCETON, N.J. — Two in three U.S. adults favor a plan to allow immigrants who are living illegally in the U.S. to remain in the country and become citizens if they meet certain requirements over time. Far fewer support allowing those immigrants to remain in the U.S. to work for a limited period of time (14%), or to deport all of these immigrants back to their home countries (19%). U.S. adults’ views have been largely stable over the past decade.


The latest update comes from Gallup’s 2015 Minority Rights and Relations poll, conducted June 15-July 10. The poll included larger samples of blacks and Hispanics. Immigration is of special significance to Hispanics, about half of whom are immigrants themselves, according to the poll.

Hispanics (77%) are more likely than non-Hispanic whites (62%) or non-Hispanic blacks (70%) to favor a path to citizenship for immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally. One in five whites, compared with 14% of blacks and 8% of Hispanics, prefer deporting undocumented immigrants back to their home countries.

Hispanics are slightly less likely now than in 2006 (86%) to favor a path to citizenship for immigrants. The 2006 survey was the last time Gallup asked the question in a poll that included an expanded sample of Hispanics. Whites’ and blacks’ views are largely unchanged since then.

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Path to Citizenship Less Appealing to Republicans

U.S. adults’ views on the best approach to take with illegal immigrants living in the U.S. differ based on their party identification. At 80%, Democrats overwhelmingly favor allowing illegal immigrants to stay in the U.S. and to have an opportunity to become citizens. Republicans are far less likely to support a path to citizenship, at 50%, but that is still the most common view among this group. Thirty-one percent of Republicans want to see all illegal immigrants deported, while 18% favor allowing them to stay for a limited time to work.

Neither party’s views have changed dramatically over the past decade, but Democrats are now a bit more likely to endorse citizenship while Republicans are less likely to do so. The 31% of Republicans who favor deporting all illegal immigrants is up from 20% in 2006, while the percentage of Republicans favoring a path to citizenship is down from 58% to 50%. In 2006, President George W. Bush favored legislation that included a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

There has been a 10-point increase since 2006 in the percentage of Democrats who favor a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

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U.S. adults do not express a clear preference on whether immigration levels should be increased, decreased or kept the same, but they mostly agree that immigrants living in the U.S. illegally should be allowed to stay and be given the opportunity to become citizens.

Even so, the federal government has been unable to agree on comprehensive immigration reform over the past 10 years. In 2006, the House and Senate passed differing reform bills but could not agree on a reconciled bill. The Senate passed a bipartisan bill in 2013, but the House took no action on immigration. This is the case even though U.S. adults widely back many of the specific provisions that would go into a reform bill, including increased border security, which has been congressional Republicans’ primary concern.

Nearly a decade after a record 19% of U.S. adults named immigration the most important problem facing the country, the issue remains unsettled. President Barack Obama sought to use executive actions to grant legal status to illegal immigrants residing in the U.S., but those moves are on hold pending legal challenges. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell recently said immigration legislation will not be taken up this year or next, ensuring it will remain an issue in the 2016 presidential election.

The issue presents a greater challenge for Republican presidential candidates than Democratic candidates, given widespread Democratic support for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Republicans, on the other hand, are divided, with half supporting a path to citizenship and the other half preferring a measure that stops short of citizenship, including a substantial 31% who want all illegal immigrants deported.

As a result, the party and its presidential candidates face a dilemma in trying to please the many conservative GOP voters who oppose citizenship and represent a core constituency in the primary electorate, along with Republicans who embrace some type of immigration reform. Some party leaders believe advocating immigration reform could shore up Hispanic support for the GOP in the 2016 general election.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted June 15-July 10, 2015, with a random sample of 2,296 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. All respondents had previously been interviewed in the Gallup Daily tracking survey and agreed to be re-contacted by Gallup. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

For results based on the total sample of 857 non-Hispanic whites, the margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

For results based on the total sample of 802 non-Hispanic blacks, the margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

For results based on the total sample of 508 Hispanics, the margin of sampling error is ±7 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

View survey methodology, complete question responses, and trends.