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Illegal Immigration, Immigrants, and the Immigration System
Topics: Immigration

What You Need to Know


Fewer than 4-in-10 Americans believe the current immigration system is generally working (7 percent) or working but with some major problems (29 percent). On the other hand, more than 6-in-10 believe the immigration system is broken but working in some areas (40 percent) or is completely broken (23 percent). Republicans (73 percent) are more likely than independents (62 percent) and Democrats (57 percent) to say that the immigration system is broken.


  • A Path to Citizenship: More than 6-in-10 (63 percent) Americans say immigrants currently living in the U.S. illegally should be allowed to become citizens provided they meet certain requirements, 14 percent say they should be allowed to become permanent legal residents but not citizens and 21 percent say they should be deported. Majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and independents, as well as majorities of all major religious groups, support a pathway to citizenship coupled with requirements.
  • DREAM Act: Six-in-ten (61 percent) Americans favor allowing illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to gain legal working status if they join the military or go to college, compared to one-third (34 percent) who are opposed. Support for this policy is strongest among Millennials (age 18-29), close to three-quarters (72 percent) of whom are in favor.
  • Deportation: When asked about deportation in isolation from other policy options, most Americans (55 percent) oppose deporting all illegal immigrants back to their home country, although more than 4-in-10 (43 percent) favor this approach. Fewer Americans (34 percent) favor “self-deportation,” making conditions so difficult for illegal immigrants that they return to their home country on their own.


A majority (54 percent) of Americans believe that the growing number of newcomers coming from other countries strengthens American society, compared to 40 percent who say that the growing number of newcomers from other countries threatens traditional American customs and values. Americans are more divided when it comes the impact that illegal immigrants are having on wages.

  • There is evidence that the gap between views about how much immigrants are changing American society and how much they are changing local communities is at least partially driven by political ideology. Conservatives (36 percent) are about equally as likely as liberals (31 percent) to report that immigrants are changing their respective communities a lot. However, conservatives are much more likely than liberals to say that immigrants are changing American society a lot (53 percent vs. 38 percent respectively).
  • Most Americans (64 percent) agree that immigrants coming to the U.S. today take jobs that Americans don’t want, while less than 1-in-3 (27 percent) believe that immigrants take jobs from American citizens. At the same time, a majority (56 percent) say illegal immigrants hurt the economy by driving down wages for many Americans, compared to about one-third (36 percent) who say they help the economy by providing low-cost labor.

Source: PRRI, March 2013 

Updated March 2013

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