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Americans still support asylum for immigrants fleeing persecution, poll finds

Migrants in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, head for the U.S. border.
Americans support offering asylum to people who are fleeing persecution, a poll finds. Above, migrants in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, head for the U.S. border.
(Christian Chavez / Associated Press)
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As the Biden administration prepares to end the use of a Trump-era border measure that restricts access to asylum, most Americans continue to support protections for immigrants who are fleeing persecution and torture abroad.

By 55% to 23%, Americans say the U.S. should continue to offer asylum to people who arrive at the border, if they are found to be fleeing persecution, according to a new survey conducted for The Times by the YouGov polling organization.

Support for offering asylum crosses party lines, although Democrats are significantly more in favor of it, and Republicans are more closely divided.

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A much wider partisan gap divides Americans on the question of how many of the people who seek asylum are actually fleeing persecution. Among Democrats, nearly half said most or all asylum seekers had valid claims. Only 1 in 6 Republicans took a similar view, the L.A. Times/YouGov poll found. More than 6 in 10 Republicans said that few or none of the asylum seekers had valid claims.

The L.A. Times/YouGov poll surveyed a nationally representative sample of 1,573 adult American citizens, who were interviewed online Dec. 9-14. The results have a margin of error of 3 percentage points in either direction.

The poll also found that most Americans continue to support Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the Obama-era program that allows people who were brought to the U.S. as children to legally live and work in the U.S. The program is being challenged in court by Texas and several other Republican states.

Half of those surveyed said that DACA should continue, compared with 29% who said it should be ended. An additional 21% were not sure.

More than half of respondents — 55% — said that even if DACA ends, those covered by it should be allowed to continue to work and live legally in the United States.

The poll results come as Biden administration officials debate how to handle asylum cases in the future.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, border agents have used Title 42, a section of the public health code, to rapidly expel would-be immigrants at the border, often without considering their asylum claims. A federal judge has ordered the Biden administration to stop using the pandemic-era measure by Wednesday.

Although the public supports offering asylum to immigrants who are found to be fleeing persecution, Americans also think the process should move faster. More than 4 in 10 Americans said the asylum process shouldn’t take longer than 6 months; more than two-thirds said it should not take longer than a year.

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Currently, asylum cases can take years to be heard in court.

The poll made clear that Americans continue to have little patience for President Biden’s handling of immigration. Just 8% of respondents said they strongly approve of Biden’s immigration policies; an additional 25% said they somewhat approve of them.

That’s a significantly less favorable judgment than the public’s overall view of Biden’s job performance: 40% of Americans approve, according to YouGov’s polling.

Most Americans have favorable or neutral opinions about immigration more broadly, according to the poll. Nearly 6 in 10 Americans think that immigration either makes the U.S. better off (35%) or doesn’t make much difference (23%).

Similarly, a majority of Americans support birthright citizenship, the constitutional provision that automatically grants U.S. citizenship to every child born in this country. That view is widespread, with support outpacing opposition among liberals and conservatives, white Americans and those of color and Democrats and Republicans.

There is a big exception: people who said they voted for Donald Trump in 2020. Those voters are closely divided, with 44% in favor of ending birthright citizenship and 41% opposed.

That finding is consistent with another finding of the poll — the sharply partisan divide on whether immigration helps or hurts the country.

While just over a third of Americans say immigration makes the country better off, 29%, including 52% of Trump voters and 49% of Republicans, believe immigration makes the country worse off.

These anti-immigration Americans make up around half of the GOP, and they support major changes to the country’s immigration laws.

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Americans who believe that immigration makes the country worse off oppose birthright citizenship, 46% to 38%. They favor ending DACA, 60% to 28%. And they are much more likely than the general population to say that even legal immigration is a problem in the United States.

More than 4 in 10 among those who believe immigration makes the country worse off say legal immigration is a problem; only 17% of the general population agrees.

The politics of immigration appear set to shift with age, however. Millennial and Gen Z Americans — the two most diverse generations — have dramatically different views on immigration than their older counterparts.

Americans ages 45-64 and 65 and older have nearly identical views on immigration; 38% of each group believe that immigration makes the country worse off.

By contrast, only 15% of those under age 30 and 21% of those ages 30-44 think immigration makes the country worse off.

The difference among the age groups is driven more by changes among Republicans than among Democrats. Republicans under 30 are much more likely than older Republicans to believe that immigrants help the country. Forty-two percent of Republicans under 30 said that immigrants make the country better off.

Various studies have attempted to measure the effect of immigration on the economy. The Center for American Progress, a research group aligned with Democrats, said that providing a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants would boost the nation’s gross domestic product.

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