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Partisan Divide Blurs Americans' Support for Balanced Immigration Reform

A Pew study finds Americans back a balanced approach to dealing with immigration, but there are stark divisions based on presidential politics.
A Donald Trump cutout sits outside the Trump Doral National hotel and Spa in Miami, Florida on 26 July 2016 where Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump holds the $50,000-per-plate fundraiser with Florida Governor Rick Scott. Pro-immigrant groups protest and unveil a Trump wall of shame. / AFP PHOTO / Gaston De CardenasGASTON DE CARDENAS/AFP/Getty ImagesGASTON DE CARDENAS / AFP - Getty Images

Americans are in general agreement that the way to fix immigration is with a balanced approach of a path to citizenship and border security and without a border wall. But when you divide them up by who they support in the presidential race, the agreement crumbles, according to results in a new survey.

Pew Research Center's survey of 2,010 adults during Aug. 9-16, found that a plurality of Americans, 45 percent, agree that the way to deal with immigration requires giving priority to both border security and law enforcement. They also found that about two thirds – 61 percent – oppose building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, a tenet of GOP nominee Donald Trump’s immigration platform.

The support for a combined immigration approach accompanies agreement among about three-quarters of those surveyed that immigrants who entered or stayed illegally in the U.S. are hard working and honest. In addition, 67 percent agreed that such immigrants are not more likely than citizens to commit crimes, according to the survey by Pew Research Center.

But when presidential politics was added to the mix, views on the issue were far more divided.

About half of Trump supporters say people in the U.S. illegally are more likely than American citizens to commit serious crimes. A third believe immigrants are not as honest or hardworking as U.S. citizens and 35 percent say they fill jobs Americans would like to have, Pew found. The negative views against immigrants grew with strength of support of Trump.

Related: Donald Trump's Stunning Flip-Flop On Immigration

On building a border wall, 79 percent of Trump’s backers support that proposal, compared to 88 percent of Hillary Clinton’s supporters who oppose it. Among those who strongly support Trump, 91 percent want a wall built.

Pew’s findings were released amid suggestions by Trump that he might soften his previously stated plan to deport all immigrants here illegally, an idea he backed in debates by invoking “Operation Wetback,” of the Eisenhower administration.

While he has suggested he might adjust his deportation talk, Trump has continued to say he would build a wall and make Mexico pay for it, most recently leading call-and-response on that idea at a rally.

Related: GOP Hispanics Trump Open to Easing Policies on Undocumented Immigrants

Trump has been performing poorly among Latino and black voters and is behind in polling among college educated white women.

Other surveys by Pew, Public Religion Research Institute and others have found support among Americans for immigrants and for balanced approaches for dealing with immigration.

Nevertheless, for more than a decade, Congress has failed to reach agreement on legislation that takes such an approach. The most recent attempt was in 2013, when the Senate passed a sweeping immigration bill that contained enforcement measures and a more than decade-long path to citizenship with requirements they had to meet along the way.

But the Republican-controlled House refused to consider the bill or others drafted by GOP members that were tougher on enforcement, because it did not want to have to negotiate on the bill passed by the Senate.

Pew found that 41 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents favor making better border security and stronger law enforcement the focus of dealing with immigration. But almost the same share, 45 percent, said that both law enforcement and a path to citizenship should be given equal priority.

Among Democrats, 43 percent say the focus should be on creating a way for immigrants here illegally to become citizens, while 47 percent think both approaches deserve equal priority.

Opposition to a wall on the border holds up even across racial and demographic lines, although whites are more likely to support it – 43 percent – than blacks – 20 percent and Hispanics, 22 percent.

When divided among partisan lines, 63 percent of Republicans or independents who lean Republican favor a wall, while 84 percent of Democrats or independents who lean Democrat oppose it.

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