Americans Favor Tough Immigration Policies, But Are More Lenient About Illegal Immigrant Children

May 02, 2012, 12:00 PM GMT+0

(Week of 4/28/2012) In the aftermath of last week’s Supreme Court hearings about the constitutionality of Arizona’s controversial immigration law, the latest Economist/YouGov Poll shows that Americans approve of the law by a wide margin. However, the country is split sharply along racial lines on this issue — while 63% of whites approve of the legislation, 55% of Hispanics disapprove. Blacks are very closely divided, with a plurality supporting the law.

Republicans are overwhelmingly in favor of the law (89%-5%), while Democrats are more narrowly divided but generally opposed to it (36%-48%). The parties are strongly at odds on the more general question of whether states should be able to craft their own immigration policies, or whether immigration policy should be the exclusive custody of the federal government. 78% of Republican believe states should be able to set their own policies, while only 24% of Democrats agree.

The Economist/YouGov Poll also asked respondents about a variety of additional proposals aimed at controlling illegal immigration. The results show that Americans tend to be strongly in favor of such policies: over two-thirds of respondents favor such actions as making it a crime to hire illegal immigrants, denying illegal immigrants public benefits, requiring police to report illegal immigrants to the federal government, and using the national guard to patrol the border. A majority of respondents also favors building more border fences.

But while a majority of Americans may support some restriction-oriented immigration policies, they do not take as hard of a line against illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. For example, less than half of Americans support not allowing illegal immigrant parents to send their kids to school. And many Americans are in favor of various provisions of the DREAM Act, which aims to provide legal status to illegal immigrants who come to the U.S. before the age of 16. 60% of the public
favors giving such individuals legal status if they join the military; only 28% oppose this proposal. 47% support giving such individuals legal status if they go to college; 41% disagree.