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Most Americans back path to citizenship for immigrants

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WASHINGTON -- As an overhaul of the nation's immigration laws stalls in the Republican House, most Americans support a cornerstone of the proposed changes -- a path to citizenship for immigrants in the United States illegally, according to new polling released Monday.

Support for the citizenship route has held steady at 63% throughout 2013 -- rising slightly among Republicans and dipping among political independents, according to the report from the Public Religion Research Institute. [Updated, 4:25 p.m. PST Nov. 25: Information from a Brookings Religion, Values and Immigration Reform Survey was also included.]

Earlier this year, the Senate approved a bill including a 13-year path to citizenship for immigrants who pay back taxes and fines and learn English. But House Republicans have refused to consider the bill. The Republicans remain deeply divided on whether immigrants in the United States illegally should be able to gain citizenship at all.

The poll showed there is little support for the alternatives: Deportation was backed by 18%, while 14% supported legal status without citizenship.

PHOTOS: The debate over immigration reform

"Throughout 2013, views on immigration reform have remained remarkably steady," the authors wrote.

Among political groups, positions have shifted slightly. Support for citizenship among self-identified Republicans has risen from 53% in March to 60% in November; among independents, it has fallen from 64% to 57%. Support among Democrats has remained steady, above 70%.

Majorities of Catholics, mainline Protestants and white evangelical Protestants, as well as the religiously unaffiliated, support citizenship, the report said.

Most Americans said the 13-year path was too long, and they were divided over the Senate's proposed "border surge" -- a $46-billion military-style buildup along the Mexican border.

Americans were also split on whether the issue should be an "immediate" priority, or addressed over the next couple of years.

House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said last week that the immigration issue was "absolutely not" dead, but he declined to say if the House would address it in 2014.

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