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Americans Favor Giving Illegal Immigrants a Chance to Stay

Americans Favor Giving Illegal Immigrants a Chance to Stay

by Elizabeth Mendes

PRINCETON, NJ -- Seven in 10 Americans would vote for a law that lets immigrants living in the U.S. illegally have a chance to become "permanent legal residents." A similar percentage says the same when asked whether they would vote for or against a law allowing immigrants living in the U.S. illegally a chance to become "U.S. citizens."

These data are from an April 9-10 Gallup poll, conducted as a bipartisan group of senators worked to ready an immigration reform bill. The legislation this "group of eight" is putting together reportedly includes a requirement for certain border controls to be put in place before immigrants in the U.S. illegally could work toward becoming legal citizens.

Democrats and Democratic leaners are far more supportive than Republicans and Republican leaners of allowing immigrants living in the U.S. illegally to have a chance to stay in the country legally. But, support among Democrats and Republicans is essentially the same regardless of whether the groups are asked about a path that ends with immigrants as "permanent legal residents" or as "U.S. citizens."

The proposed bill also includes a visa program for immigrants who are farm workers and are entering low-skilled jobs, although this part of the law was still facing disagreement until a deal was apparently reached Thursday. The difficulty lawmakers have had in finding common ground on this portion of the legislation mirrors the American public's divisive views on the issue.

About half of Americans (52%) say they would vote for a work visa program that allows a specified number of immigrants into the U.S. every year to work at generally lesser-skilled jobs; 44% would vote against it. When asked whether they would vote for such a program, but "with the number of yearly visas determined by a government bureau," Americans are just as divided -- 51% for and 46% against.

Democrats are only slightly more likely than Republicans to favor the work visa program -- 56% vs. 50%. But, when asked if they favor this type of program, but "with the number of yearly visas determined by a government bureau," Republicans' support drops to 40% and Democrats' rises to 62%. These differences highlight the significant partisan differences in views of the role of government in today's society.

Bottom Line

The push for an immigration reform bill is growing stronger with a group of eight senators set to introduce comprehensive legislation in the Senate. A Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the legislation is currently set for Wednesday.

Americans clearly favor making it possible for immigrants in the U.S. illegally to have a chance to stay in the country legally -- whether that is as permanent residents or as U.S. citizens. Americans are more divided about a visa program that would allow lesser-skilled workers into the country, although half do support it.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted April 9-10, 2013, with a random sample of approximately 500 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±6 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cellphone numbers are selected using random digit dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted to correct for unequal selection probability, nonresponse, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, cellphone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2012 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the July-December 2011 National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the 2010 census. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

View methodology, full question results, and trend data.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

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