Most Americans support path to legal status for immigrants, poll shows

A majority of Americans support a path to legal status for immigrants living in the U.S. illegally, according to a new poll by the Pew Research Center, if certain requirements are met.

Although the poll question did not specify what those requirements might be, 72% of Americans agreed there should be a way for such immigrants to gain legal status. When asked to specify, 42% said such immigrants should be allowed to apply for citizenship, and 26% said they should be able to apply for permanent residency, not citizenship.

The survey also touched on a variety of other immigration-related questions, including whether immigrants improve the U.S., and whether the Obama administration has taken appropriate steps to mitigate the problem of illegal immigration.

About half of the 2,002 respondents -- 51% -- said immigrants are a boon to the nation, making it stronger through hard work and talents, and 41% said immigrants are a burden, taking jobs and resources away from Americans.

Among Republicans, 56% said they back a path to legal status. When asked whether immigrants are a burden, 63% said yes, and only 27% said immigrants strengthen the country.

In comparison, most Democrats (62%) and independents (57%) viewed immigrants as positive additions to the labor pool.

When asked whether providing pathways to legal status is seen as a reward “for doing something wrong,” 58% of Republicans agreed that offering citizenship or permanent residence to those immigrants would be tantamount to prizes for breaking the law.

Democrats and independents overwhelmingly disagreed. Only 23% of Democrats and one-third of independents surveyed view legal status that way.

Overall, 58% of respondents said they did not think of citizenship or permanent residency as a reward.

When it comes to other immigration issues, the nation is torn. Respondents disagreed over whether legal immigration should be increased, decreased or kept at present levels. Of those polled, 39% said the current levels should go unchanged, 31% want to see the numbers go down, and 24% went the other way and think the levels should be increased.

People with less education or lower incomes tended to lean toward restricting or maintaining current levels of legal immigration. More educated individuals largely supported increasing immigration.

And when it comes to improving border security, about half of those polled believe "a lot" could be done to make things better and 29% think some action could lead to safer national boundaries.

Strikingly, Republicans and right-leaning independents do not believe the GOP is accurately representing their take on immigration, regardless of whether they support or oppose legal status for immigrants in the country illegally. Only 34% of those polled thought the party was doing a good job advocating their beliefs on the topic.

Democrats and left-leaning independents mostly support the Democratic Party’s approach to immigration, especially when those people also support legal status for such immigrants.

But Democrats and Republicans can agree on one thing: They do not like President Obama’s approach to handling immigration policy. Only 37% of respondents supported Obama's actions, though larger numbers of minorities tended to give the president's immigration plan a thumbs-up.

While 65% of white respondents disapproved of Obama's approach to the issue, only 48% of Latinos expressed dissent. Among blacks, 66% of those surveyed supported Obama on immigration.

The poll was conducted between May 12-18. The poll's margin of error was plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

kate.shepherd@latimes.com

Twitter: @katemshepherd

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