September 3, 2014

More Prioritize Border Security in Immigration Debate

How to Accommodate Undocumented Central American Children in the U.S.?

Survey Report

As President Obama considers executive action to delay the deportation of millions of undocumented immigrants, the public’s priorities for U.S. immigration policy have shifted, with more people favoring a focus on better border security and tougher enforcement of immigration laws.

Public’s Priorities for Immigration Policy

The national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted August 20-24 among 1,501 adults, finds that 33% say the priority should be on better border security and tougher enforcement of immigration laws, while 23% prioritize creating a way for people in the U.S. illegally to become citizens if they meet certain conditions. About four-in-ten (41%) say both should be given equal priority.

These priorities have changed since Feb. 2013, early in Obama’s second term. The share saying that both approaches should be given equal priority has fallen from 47% to 41%. Over the same period, the percentage prioritizing enhanced border security and stronger enforcement of immigration laws has risen eight points, from 25% to 33%. There has been little change in the percentage saying the priority should be creating a path to citizenship for people in the U.S. illegally (25% in Feb. 2013, 23% today).

Wide Partisan Gap in Immigration Priorities By a 17-point margin (53% to 36%), more Republicans now say the priority should be on better border security and stricter law enforcement than on an approach that also includes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. In Feb. 2013, 43% favored better border security and stricter law enforcement, while an identical percentage (43%) supported an approach that also included a path to citizenship. Relatively few Republicans – then or now – think the priority should just be on a path to citizenship (11% in Feb. 2013, 9% today).

Among independents, support for giving equal priority to a path to citizenship for those in the U.S. illegally and better border security and tougher enforcement of immigration laws has slipped since Feb. 2013 (from 47% to 41%), while support for better border security and tougher law enforcement alone has increased, from 25% to 33%.

Similarly, fewer Democrats give equal priority to both a path to citizenship and enhanced border security and stricter law enforcement than did so at the beginning of last year (52% then, 45% now), while the share saying the priority should be just on better border security and tougher law enforcement has increased from 14% to 19%. A third of Democrats (33%) say the priority should be on creating a way for people here illegally to become citizens if they meet certain requirements, which is little changed since Feb. 2013 (32%).

Hispanics, Young People Give Greater Priority to ‘Path to Citizenship’The survey finds that 42% of Hispanics favor prioritizing both a path to citizenship for those in the U.S. illegally and stronger enforcement of immigration laws and better border security; about as many say the priority should be to create a way for people in the U.S. illegally to become citizens. Just 15% think better border security and stronger enforcement of immigration laws should be the priority.

Among whites, there is much more support for improving border security and enforcing immigration laws more strictly: 37% of whites say that should be the priority for U.S. policy, more than double the percentage of Hispanics. About four-in-ten whites (39%) say the priority should be both improving border security (and tougher law enforcement) as well as providing a way for those here illegally to gain citizenship if they meet certain conditions. However, just 21% of whites say the focus should be mainly on creating a path to citizenship.

There also are age differences in immigration priorities: 36% of those under 30 say the priority should be on creating a way for people here illegally to become citizens, the highest share of any age group. Those 50 and older are more likely than those under 50 to emphasize better border security and stronger enforcement of immigration laws.

Dealing with Central American Children in U.S. Illegally

The number of unaccompanied minors from Central America crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally has risen sharply this year. A Pew Research Center survey last month found that 53% favored speeding up the legal processing of the Central American children, even if some who are eligible for asylum are deported; 39% favored following the current policy, even though the process could take a long time.

What to do about Children from Central America in U.S. Illegally?   In terms of dealing with the thousands of Central American children in this country, 69% favor allowing them to join their families living in the U.S. while their cases are pending; 56% say they should be allowed to attend public schools, while 51% favor allowing them to be housed in a government facility in the U.S.

Most OK with Children Joining Families; Schools, Gov’t Facilities More Divisive  Majorities across most partisan and demographic groups say the Central American children in the U.S. illegally should be allowed to join family members in the United States. But there are wider differences over allowing the children to attend public schools and be housed at U.S. government facilities.

While 67% of whites say children from Central America should be allowed to join family members in this country while their immigration cases are pending, only about half of whites say the children should be allowed to attend public schools (51%) and be housed at U.S. government facilities (49%). Among Hispanics, 78% say the children should be able to attend schools while their cases are pending and 59% favor them being housed at government facilities.

Most Republicans (57%) favor Central American children in the U.S. illegally being allowed to join families in the U.S. while their cases are pending. But just 40% think they should be allowed to attend public schools and the same percentage favors allowing them to be housed at U.S. government facilities. Among Democrats, majorities favor the children joining their families in the U.S. (80%) and being allowed to attend schools (71%) and be housed at U.S. government facilities (61%).

Republicans and Republican leaners who agree with the Tea Party are generally opposed to allowing Central American children in the U.S. illegally to join their families or to benefit from government services while their cases are pending. Just 43% favor them being allowed to join their families in the U.S. (55% are opposed), 22% favor them being allowed to attend U.S. public schools (76% are opposed) and 29% favor allowing them to be housed at government facilities (69% are opposed).