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A new survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution finds that 62 percent of Americans favor giving undocumented immigrants a way to become citizens.
An additional 17 percent said that undocumented immigrants should be able to become legal residents but not full citizens, and 19 percent said they should be deported.
Robert P. Jones, chief executive of the Public Religion Research Institute, discusses the survey findings with Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
Well, here in the U.S. there is a new survey out today that finds 62 percent of Americans support a pathway to citizenship for the country's undocumented immigrants. The survey by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution comes at a critical time because experts say if Congress doesn't act on immigration reform this summer, the issue is dead for the year.
Robert Jones is a co-author of the survey. He's chief executive of the Public Religion Research Institute. And he's with us from the Brookings Institution's studio in Washington. Robert, welcome.
ROBERT JONES: Hi. Thanks to be here - thanks for having me.
HOBSON: Well, you surveyed about 1,500 Americans and found, as we said, 62 percent favor a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in this country. Tell us more about what you found.
JONES: Yeah. Well, one thing that's unique about this survey is that we actually called back a number of Americans that we had surveyed last year. So we actually have a panel callback so we can assess how views have changed over time.
So this year we found, as you said, 62 percent of the country says that we should allow immigrants in the country illegally to become citizens provided they meet certain requirements. We actually had a three-part question. The other two, only 17 percent said allow them to become permanent legal residents but not citizens. And finally, 19 percent said identify and deport them.
And what's remarkable, given that we've had kind of ups and downs in the legislative action on this issue, really is that we see absolutely solid support across the last year - no change at all. Last year the number was 63 percent support a path to citizenship, this year 62 percent. And those numbers are statistically equivalent.
HOBSON: But it doesn't appear to have been enough last year - who knows what will happen this year - to convince Republicans, especially in Congress, to go along with some sort of immigration reform that does provide a pathway to citizenship.
JONES: Yeah, it's interesting. The politics are clearly more complicated than the public opinion. I mean, you know, even if Congress is having difficulty moving here, we certainly find that everyday Americans are largely in agreement on the issue. One other thing to say is that it actually crosses party lines here in the public opinion data. So we have, you know, 70 percent of Democrats, 61 percent of Independents, and even the slim majority of Republicans, 51 percent, supporting a path to citizenship.
HOBSON: Well, and we asked on our Facebook page if people support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Jonathan Marr (ph) said, absolutely yes. Edward Azadecks Thomas (ph) says he supports deportation. He says, if we are to reward people for doing the wrong thing, what message does that send? And as you said, 19 percent of the people that you surveyed want to see illegal immigrants deported.
Is there a geographical region where those people are coming from? Are they from all of the country and all political streams?
JONES: Yeah. Well, you know, we see some regional variances but not really that pronounced. I mean, the variances, they're a little bigger by party. So for example, Republicans are much more likely - 30 percent of Republicans favor a deportation compared to only 11 percent of Democrats. So there are some partisan differences here. But still, the weight of opinion is clearly on a path to citizenship.
HOBSON: Now, your survey also looked at how Americans view the economic impact of undocumented immigrants - whether they are making it easier for Americans to get jobs or harder, or they have a positive benefit or not. What did you find?
JONES: Right. Well, this is one of the key-related questions is, you know, whether there's this relationship - or how tight the relationship is between perceived either economic threats or even cultural threats of newer immigrants coming in the country. And what we actually find is on both fronts, Americans are actually viewing immigrants a little more positively than they were a year ago.
So for example, a year ago, a majority of Americans said - 56 percent said that illegal immigrants hurt the economy by driving down wages for many Americans. Only 36 percent said help the economy by providing low-cost labor. But this year that negative perception has dropped by 10 points.
So only 46 percent of Americans today say that illegal immigrants mostly hurt the economy by driving down wages for Americans. So today Americans are divided, whereas a year ago they were clearly on the side of believing the immigrants hurt the economy.
HOBSON: Robert, we're five months away now from the midterm elections - actually less than five months at this point. What are people seeing when it comes to how important this issue is going to be for candidates who are up for election this year?
JONES: Yeah. Well, I think it's a mixed picture. I think two things are true at the same time in the survey. So we see this broad support that we've been talking about. There's also been a little bit of an uptick in trust of the Democratic Party as the party most trusted to handle the issue.
But we had - more to your point. We had a question about candidates in the 2014 elections. And here we found actually that opposing a path to citizenship is actually more of a liability than an asset for candidates in the 2014 election. So by a three to one margin, American voters say they'd be less likely to support a candidate who opposes a path to citizenship than one who supports it.
HOBSON: And we've got President Obama who has of course come out and said he wants comprehensive immigration reform. But many say he's the deporter-in-chief. He's deporting more illegal immigrants than his predecessors. How's he viewed in your survey?
JONES: Yeah. Well, it's interesting. So again, two things have happened here. One thing to say is that Obama's job approval rating has dropped fairly steadily over the last year. And one place where that's happened fairly precipitously is actually among Latinos.
So Latinos are the most likely to know, for example, that deportations have increased. Most Americans, in fact, don't know that deportations have increased during the Obama administration. Latinos are the most likely to know that. And also President Obama's job performance rating has dropped nearly 20 points over the last year among Latinos.
HOBSON: Robert Jones is chief executive of the Public Religion Research Institute. He's co-author of the new survey finding that Americans do overwhelmingly support a pathway to citizenship for the country's illegal immigrants. We've got a link to that at our website hereandnow.org. Robert, thanks for joining us.
JONES: Oh, thanks for having me.
MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI, HOST:
Well, we've got a little more later today on All Things Considered on a number of stories, including the fact that veteran service organizations say that the Department of Veterans Affairs is underfunded. But VA officials often tell Congress they have enough money.
So what's the link between the VA's budget and that horrible scandal regarding veterans being put on endless wait lists? That's later today on All Things Considered. You're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.