Americans want to see illegal immigrant young adults given legal status, but they are far less forgiving to most others, and want to see a huge reduction in legal immigration as well, according to a new poll released last week by a group that wants to see an immigration crackdown.
Other public polls have shown voters increasingly open to granting illegal immigrants a path to citizenship, and even place that on equal footing with securing the border — but the new poll suggests Americans' views are too complex to be captured in a single broad question.
In one key finding, most respondents said even legal immigration should be cut by at least half. Currently, the U.S. allows in about 1 million legal immigrants a year, but 16 percent said that should be cut to 500,000, another 17 percent wanted to see it drop to 100,000, and a full 26 percent said they want to see a halt to all legal immigration. By contrast, just 16 percent said to keep it at 1 million and only 11 percent wanted to see an increase to 2 million.
"Those are pretty astounding numbers for Americans right now, saying we don't need immigration right now — and we sure don't need immigration like we have," said Roy Beck, executive director of NumbersUSA, the group that sponsored the poll.
NumbersUSA has fought against legalization bills in Congress, and has targeted lawmakers who supported those bills, rallying their constituents to flood their offices with calls and faxes in opposition.
In their new poll, which surveyed 1,000 likely voters, NumbersUSA found deep concern over jobs and a reticence to add more immigrant labor to the market.
One question specifically asked if Americans were prepared to pay higher prices if that's what it took for businesses to pay American workers, rather than bring in immigrant labor. The survey found 68 percent ready to pay more, while just 14 percent wanted to see immigrants pick up the slack and keep prices lower.
That stands in stark contrast to the consensus on Capitol Hill, where both Republican and Democratic leaders have embraced expanding immigration — including giving businesses tools to add more immigrant workers.
Still, other polls show, that while increasing immigration is a minority view, the number has been increasing. Until about the year 2000, Gallup polling found single-digit support for higher legal immigration. But Gallup's most recent survey earlier this month found 27 percent wanted to see an increase.
That's substantially higher than the 11 percent the NumbersUSA poll found. One difference is that the Gallup poll just asked about increases in general, while the NumbersUSA survey attached specifics — in this case, a rise from the current 1 million to 2 million.
Gallup's most recent polling showed Americans about evenly split with 44 percent saying it's more important to deal with illegal immigrants already in the U.S., while 43 percent said they want to see border security come first. That's the first time in Gallup's polling that the border security has placed second.
In contrast, the NumbersUSA poll found 59 percent said they want to see all border and interior enforcement in place before Congress grants work permits to illegal immigrants. Just 25 percent said the work permits could come first.
As for illegal immigration, the NumbersUSA poll did find substantial support for legalizing young adults, known as "Dreamers," who were brought to the U.S. as children. Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed said they were sympathetic to their goal of legal status and work permits.
But for illegal immigrants who jumped the border or overstayed their visas, the poll found much less support. Only about a quarter of voters felt "very sympathetic" or "somewhat sympathetic" to those immigrants' demand for legal status and work permits.
Democrats over the past few years have tried to tie all illegal immigrants into the same legislation, arguing that it would be unfair to legalize just children without also granting their parents legal status.
Mr. Beck said the poll shows why.
"They felt like if they passed the Dream Act they would lose the cover for the entire amnesty," he said.
Asked specifically what should happen to the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the country, a plurality wanted to see some deportations but didn't believe mass deportations are practical.
The NumbersUSA poll was conducted Feb. 11-12 by Pulse Opinion Research. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
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