Poll: Broad Support Continues for Legal Status for Undocumented Immigrants

by Jessica Washington /  / Updated 

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.

A Pew Research Center study released Thursday found that support for legal status for undocumented immigrants continues to have overwhelming support, while opinions over legal immigration are divided.

The study, which surveyed 2,002 adults from May 12-18th, found that 72 percent of Americans believe that undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States should be allowed to stay in the country legally if they meet certain requirements.

A majority of those who favor giving undocumented immigrations legal status -- 42 percent of people overall -- believe that they should be allowed to apply for citizenship, while 26 percent of people believe they should only be able to apply for permanent residency.

Hispanics, younger Americans and Democrats are the most supportive of allowing undocumented immigrants to remain in the U.S. Majorities of these demographics -- Hispanics (86 percent), young people (81 percent) and Democrats (80 percent) -- believe undocumented immigrants should have a path to legal status in the U.S. That’s compared to 56 percent of Republicans and 64 percent of those over 50 who believe undocumented immigrants should be given legal status.

Overall, Americans tend to reject the idea that granting undocumented immigrants a path to legal status is a reward for “bad behavior.” However, the majority of Republicans – 58 percent -- view a path to legal status as a reward for doing something wrong.

While the public is largely supportive of granting undocumented immigrants legal status, Americans are divided on the issue of legal immigration.

Roughly half of Americans – 51 percent -- believe that immigrants today strengthen the country because of their hard work and talents. However, 41 percent believe immigrants are a burden because they take jobs, housing and health care. The percentage of Americans saying that immigrants strengthen the country has declined by six percent since last year.

At present, 39 percent of Americans believe that immigration should be kept at present levels, compared with 24 percent who believe it should be increased and 31 percent who believe it should be decreased.

And there is a partisan divide in terms of legal immigration. Among Republicans, 42 percent believe that legal immigration should be decreased, compared to 27 percent of Democrats and 28 percent of immigrants.

Socioeconomic differences also affect attitudes over legal immigration. The study found that 35 percent of those who have not completed college favor decreasing legal immigration, compared with 25 percent of college graduates and 18 percent of those with post-graduate degrees. In addition, those with lower household incomes are more likely to believe legal immigration should be decreased.

The study did find a correlation between opinions over legal immigration and granting legal status for undocumented immigrants. Among those in opposition to a path to legal status, 49 percent believe there should be a decrease in immigration, while among those in favor of a legal path, only 25 percent support a reduction in immigration.

Although there is a correlation between these opinions, the study shows that there is a large divide in opinions over legal status for undocumented immigrants, and the impact of immigration in the US.

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.