7-in-10 prefer offering children support while cases are reviewed, over immediate deportation
WASHINGTON – Approximately seven-in-ten Americans see the growing numbers of unaccompanied minors arriving in the United States from Central America as refugees, not illegal immigrants, and support a policy that offers shelter and support while their cases are being reviewed instead of immediate deportation, a new survey finds.
The Religion and Politics Tracking Survey, conducted by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute, finds that 69 percent of Americans believe that children arriving from Central America should be treated as refugees and should be allowed to stay in the United States if authorities determine it is not safe for them to return to their home countries. In contrast, 27 percent say these children should be treated as illegal immigrants and should be deported back to their home countries. Majorities of Democrats (83 percent) independents (66 percent), and Republicans (52 percent) believe these children should be treated as refugees, but Republicans are more divided; 42 percent of Republicans believe they should be treated as illegal immigrants.
“The most notable finding in the survey is the broad bipartisan, cross-religious agreement that the unaccompanied children arriving from Central America should be seen as refugees and offered support while their cases are being reviewed,” said Dr. Robert P. Jones, PRRI CEO.
When asked about how the government should respond, seven-in-ten (70 percent) Americans say the United States should offer the unaccompanied children arriving from Central America shelter and support while beginning a process to determine whether they should be deported or allowed to stay. However, 26 percent of Americans believe these children should be deported back to their home countries immediately.
The survey finds that majorities of Democrats (80 percent), independents (69 percent), and Republicans (57 percent) favor offering support to unaccompanied children while a process to review their cases gets underway. However, nearly four-in-ten (39 percent) Republicans favor deporting these children immediately back to their home countries.
Majorities of all major religious groups—including white evangelical Protestants (56 percent), white mainline Protestants (67 percent), minority Protestants (74 percent), Catholics (75 percent), and the religiously unaffiliated (75 percent)—prefer that the government offer unaccompanied children shelter and support while their cases are being decided rather than deporting them immediately.
“While Americans broadly agree that children from Central America should be treated as refugees, there is evidence that recent events are impacting what Americans think about immigrants generally,” said Daniel Cox, PRRI Research Director. “Today, the percentage of Americans who say immigrants are a burden on the country has increased seven percentage points from early July.”
In the week ending July 6, 2014, 35 percent of Americans agreed that immigrants today are a burden because they take our jobs, housing, and health care, compared to 55 percent who said immigrants strengthen our country because of their hard work and talents. Today, 42 percent agree that immigrants are a burden on the country, compared to 49 percent who say immigrants strengthen the country.
The new survey also finds that nearly half (49 percent) of Americans report hearing a lot about the Central American children arriving in the U.S., while 31 percent report only hearing a little and 20 percent report hearing nothing at all.
Americans are more likely to see the unaccompanied children situation as a serious problem than as a crisis. The new survey finds that 36 percent of Americans view the number of children now coming from Central America as a crisis, while 43 percent see the situation as a serious problem but not a crisis. Only 19 percent think the situation is a minor problem.
Among the findings:
- Approximately 7-in-10 (71 percent) Americans agree with the general principle of offering refuge and protection to those who come to the U.S. fleeing serious danger in their home countries.
- Approximately 7-in-10 (71 percent) Americans agree that while children from Central America are waiting for their cases to be heard, they should be released to the care of relatives, host families or churches, rather than be detained by immigration authorities.
- A majority (56 percent) of Americans believe Central American families are mostly trying to keep their kids safe in difficult circumstances, while 38 percent say families are taking advantage of American good will and are trying to find a back door for immigrating to the country.
- At the same time, Americans have some ambivalence about the root causes of the increased number of children arriving from Central America at the border and hold concerns about the long-term effects of this situation.
- Americans are divided about whether these unaccompanied children are coming to escape violence and threats to their safety (45 percent) or seeking better economic and educational opportunities generally (34 percent).
- Nearly 6-in-10 (59 percent) Americans agree that if we allow these unaccompanied children to stay in the country, this will encourage others to ignore our laws and increase illegal immigration.
- The decline in positive views of immigrants has not impacted support for a policy that would allow a path to citizenship for immigrants living in the country illegally. In early July, 58 percent of Americans said they preferred a policy that allows immigrants living in the country illegally to become citizens provided they meet certain requirements, compared to identical support (58 percent) today.
The survey was designed and conducted by Public Religion Research Institute. The survey was made possible by The Carnegie Corporation of New York and Public Interest Projects/Four Freedoms Fund. Results of the survey were based on bilingual (Spanish and English) RDD telephone interviews conducted between July 23, 2014 and July 27, 2014, by professional interviewers under the direction of SSRS. Interviews were conducted among a random sample of 1,026 adults 18 years of age or older in the continental United States (512 respondents were interviewed on a cell phone). The margin of error for the survey is +/- 3.1 percentage points at the 95 percent level of confidence.
Read the topline questionnaire, including the survey methodology.