Americans agree on a path to citizenship – but don't expect Congress to act

March 20, 2014, 9:45 AM GMT+0

Americans support a path for illegal immigrants to gain citizenship, but do not think Congress will pass reforms.

Americans now clearly agree that there should be some way for illegal immigrants now in the United States to gain legal status – and a majority in the latest Economist/YouGov Poll favor a pathway to citizenship when asked directly – but fewer Americans expect that Congress will do anything about the issue this year than did so just a month ago.

Americans tend to have low expectations for Congressional action, but the percentage saying passage of immigration reform is likely this year has dropped eight points from 27% just a month ago to just 19% now. A third think passage is very unlikely, up nine points in a month. There is more hopefulness from Hispanics, who strongly favor immigration reform. More than a third of Hispanics think immigration reform is likely this year.

Hispanic lawmakers have criticized the President for continuing deportations and not working hard enough to pass an immigration reform bill, something that passed the Senate last year, a different bill went nowhere in the House. And just over a third of Hispanics in the latest poll approve of the way the President is handling immigration, about the same percentage as approve overall, and lower than the 43% overall approval rating the President receives from Hispanics.

In fact, most Hispanics disapprove of how Barack Obama has handled immigration, a larger percentage than among Americans overall.

Immigration reform has been stalled in part because of partisan disagreements: Democrats are in favor of a pathway to citizenship, while Republicans are not. Those party differences haven’t changed much in recent months. However, there is one area of reform where Republicans and Democrats agree: majorities of Democrats and half of Republicans support a path of citizenship for those who have been called “DREAMERS” -- young people brought to this country illegally as children.

Just under half of self-described conservatives (49%) favor a pathway to citizenship for those brought to the U.S. illegally as children, slightly more than the 45% of conservatives who oppose a pathway.

Hispanics are especially supportive of a pathway to citizenship for those brought here as children – more than two in three favor one, with 40% saying they support this strongly.

There is a greater partisan divide when it comes to what should happen to those children’s parents and to other adults who came to the country illegally. While the concept of a pathway to citizenship is supported by a majority overall, most Republicans (and conservatives) oppose a pathway for adults, and independents are closely divided, although half of them support a path to citizenship. Democrats overwhelmingly are in favor, as are Hispanics.

But some of those who say they support a pathway to citizenship when asked directly would prefer other alternatives. And some who say they oppose a pathway are willing to consider other types of legalization, such as granting permanent residency or temporary residency to illegal immigrants “living and working” in the United States without a criminal history. Only one in five overall would give no legal status to this group. Even most Republicans, who oppose a pathway to citizenship, are willing to allow some legal status, though a majority oppose permanent status.

Majorities of Democrats and Hispanics still favor citizenship, even when offered permanent and temporary residency as alternatives.

Image: Getty

Full results can be found here.

Economist/YouGov poll archives can be found here.

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