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Roughly Three-Quarters of Americans Favor Goals of Obama’s Immigration Action
Topics: Immigration

Seventy-three percent say that Republicans in Congress should prioritize comprehensive immigration reform legislation

WASHINGTON – With just a week to go until the expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program—part of President Obama’s executive actions on immigration— nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of Americans say that Republicans in Congress should prioritize the passage of comprehensive immigration legislation, while 17 percent say Republicans in Congress should prioritize undoing President Obama’s immigration policies.

The Religion and Politics Tracking Survey, conducted by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute, finds striking agreement across the political spectrum: 85 percent of Democrats, 73 percent of independents, and 62 percent of Republicans express a preference for prioritizing passing comprehensive immigration legislation. The survey was conducted by telephone between February 4 and February 8 among 1,015 respondents.

“Only one in five Americans say overturning Obama’s immigration policies should be a priority for the Republican Congress,” said Dr. Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute. “It’s clear that the public is more interested in crafting practical solutions to these thorny issues than they are in partisan showdowns.”

Majorities of every major religious group also say Republicans in Congress should prioritize passing comprehensive immigration policies, including 78 percent of the religiously unaffiliated, 76 percent of minority Protestants, 73 percent of white mainline Protestants, 72 percent of Catholics, and 64 percent of white evangelical Protestants.

The survey finds that there is simultaneously strong support for the goals of President Obama’s executive action on immigration reform and divisions about his use of executive action to achieve them. Roughly three-quarters (76 percent) of Americans favor allowing illegal immigrants who are the parents of children with legal status to stay in the United States for up to three years if they pass a background check and have lived in the country for at least five years. Nineteen percent of the public is opposed to this policy. Strong majorities of Democrats (87 percent), independents (77 percent), and Republicans (67 percent) support this policy, as do all majorities of all major religious groups, including majorities of Catholics (76 percent) and white evangelical Protestants (68 percent).

Despite the popularity of these policy goals, Americans are more divided on the question of President Obama’s use of executive action to achieve them. While a majority (52 percent) of Americans say that President Obama should have taken executive action to address the immigration issue, a sizeable minority (42 percent) disagrees.

There are stark racial and political divisions over the President’s use of executive action. A majority (53 percent) of non-Hispanic white Americans say that President Obama should not have taken executive action, while 8-in-10 Hispanic (80 percent) and black (80 percent) Americans say that they support the use of executive action on immigration. Nearly three-quarters of Republicans (74 percent) say that the President should not have taken executive action, while an identical number of Democrats (74 percent) say that they support his decision.

“Three quarters of Americans support the goals of President Obama’s immigration policy—and this support hasn’t waivered in the last few months” said Daniel Cox, PRRI Research Director. “But they’re more torn over his use of executive action to complete those goals.”

The survey also finds that when the executive action policy provisions are identified as “President Obama’s policy,” support falls from 76 percent to 65 percent. This “Obama Effect” is particularly pronounced among Republicans. Sixty-seven percent of Republicans favor the substance of the policy, but support drops to 51 percent when it is linked to President Obama. The “Obama Effect” is also evident when it comes to the main policy elements of the Dream Act. Though six-in-ten Republicans favor allowing illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to gain legal resident status by going to college or joining the military, support for those policies plummets to only 37 percent when the policies are associated with President Obama.

The survey also finds that roughly 6-in-10 (59 percent) Americans say the current immigration system should allow immigrants living in the country illegally a way to become citizens provided they meet certain requirements. Nearly 1-in-5 (19 percent) say they should be allowed to become permanent legal residents but not citizens, while roughly as many (18 percent) say they should be deported. Support for this policy has remained stable since March 2013.

Views of the impact that immigrants have on the United States have improved sharply since July 2014. Fifty-eight percent of Americans say that immigrants strengthen our country because of their hard work and talents, compared to 31 percent who say that immigrants are a burden. In July 2014, nearly half (49 percent) said that immigrants strengthen our country, while 42 percent said that they were a burden.

Read the report.

Read the topline questionnaire, including survey methodology.


The survey was designed and conducted by Public Religion Research Institute. Results of the survey were based on bilingual (Spanish and English) RDD telephone interviews conducted between February 4, 2015, and February 8, 2015, by professional interviewers under the direction of SSRS. Interviews were conducted among a random sample of 1,015 adults 18 years of age or older living in the United States (508 respondents were interviewed on a cell phone). The margin of error for the survey is +/- 3.6 percentage points at the 95% level of confidence. The survey was funded by generous grants from The Ford Foundation and The James Irvine Foundation.

Public Religion Research Institute is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, nonpartisan organization specializing in research at the intersection of religion, values, and public life.