How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Report: 70 percent of Americans back legal status for undocumented

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A new Pew Research survey is the latest to suggest that a majority of Americans favor allowing undocumented immigrants to stay in the country with legal status, although opinions toward a path to citizenship are more divided.

The survey from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press has seven in ten (71 percent) of those polled agreeing that "there should be a way for people in the United States illegally to remain in this country if they meet certain requirements." Twenty-seven percent said undocumented immigrants should not be allowed to stay legally.

Fewer of those favoring legal status (43 percent) said they also agreed there should be a path to citizenship for these immigrants; 24 percent said it should stop at legal residency. 

The debate over a path to citizenship for the nation's estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants has been a prominent part of negotiations as Senate and House lawmakers hammer out the details of immigration reform reform bills, expected next month. Some Republicans have come out against citizenship, going only so far as to back legal status.

The Pew survey is also the latest to suggest that, by and large, public opinion toward the undocumented and toward immigrants in general has softened. From the report:

Thinking about immigrants generally, 49 percent of Americans say they strengthen the country because of their hard work and talents, while 41% say they are a burden because they take jobs, health care and housing.

In a June 2010 poll, 39 percent said immigrants strengthened the country while 50 percent said they were a burden.

This change has been more dramatic compared with data from 1994, when 63 percent of respondents in a similar poll "viewed immigrants as a burden."

But attitudes do remain split along racial/ethnic, political and educational lines. For example, 82 percent of non-Latino black respondents, and 80 percent of Latino respondents, favored legal status, compared with 67 percent of whites. 

As might be expected, a lower percentage of Republicans than Democrats favored legal status, although the difference is only 12 points (64 vs. 76 percent). And just among whites, those with college degrees were more apt to favor legal status than those without (81 vs. 61 percent). There were similar differences among those for and against a path to citizenship.

Other recent polls have found similar attitudes, including a University of Southern California/Los Angeles Times poll released a few days ago that had 72 percent of California voters agreeing with a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Another recent poll from the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution had 63 percent of almost 4,500 respondents saying they supported a path to citizenship. 

There are more details in the complete Pew report, which can be viewed here.

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