WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The large majority of Americans (71%) say it is extremely or very important to establish new laws concerning how immigrants can enter the U.S. and how to treat illegal immigrants already in the country. Majorities across key racial and ethnic categories agree. Seventy-two percent of non-Hispanic whites support such laws, along with 68% of blacks and 73% of Hispanics.
The June 13-July 5 poll, which includes oversamples of black and Hispanic Americans, was conducted as the Senate passed its immigration reform bill on June 27. The House is currently working on its own version of immigration reform.
Americans, Including Hispanics, Most Supportive of Path to Citizenship
Of four specific proposals included in the Senate bill, the one Hispanics are most likely to support (at 92%) is giving illegal immigrants already in the country an opportunity to become U.S. citizens, while they are least likely to favor requiring businesses to check the immigration status of workers they hire, at 65%. Non-Hispanic whites and blacks are much more supportive of the latter.
Still, non-Hispanic whites and blacks also overwhelmingly support a pathway to citizenship, which is among the most controversial portions of the Senate bill for some of the majority House Republican conference. In fact, among all adults, providing a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants garners the most support of any of the Senate proposals tested.
Most Americans also support the two other items tested, tightening border security and expanding the number of short-term work visas for immigrants whose job skills are needed in the United States. Hispanics are only slightly less likely to favor tighter border security, while they are more supportive of expanding the number of work visas, at 85%, than are whites (75%) or blacks (70%).
Conservatives of All Ethnicities Broadly Support Path to Citizenship
Some House Republicans from more conservative districts have expressed concern about comprehensive immigration reform, particularly the path to citizenship. But the large majority of U.S. conservatives (83%) support a plan that ultimately allows illegal immigrants to become citizens; moderate (92%) and liberal (91%) support is only slightly higher.
Even non-Hispanic white conservatives -- supposedly the group most hostile to a citizenship plan -- express widespread support for this provision.
Americans Prioritize Dealing With Illegal Immigrants Already in U.S.
The Senate immigration bill, at 1,200 pages, adopts a comprehensive approach to reforming the immigration code. But 55% of Americans say if they had to choose, the main focus of the U.S. government should be in dealing with illegal immigrants currently in the country rather than halting the flow of illegal immigrants. While this is consistent with findings in 2012, it is a reversal from previous years, when Americans leaned toward stopping the flow of illegal immigrants.
More than six in 10 blacks and Hispanics agree that the government's first order of business should be addressing the illegal immigrants already in the country. Whites are more divided: 47% say the government should focus on halting illegal immigration, while 50% prefer the alternative.
Here, however, an ideological divide does emerge -- conservatives are far more likely (58%) to opt for halting the flow of illegal immigration as opposed to dealing with U.S.-residing illegal immigrants (38%). Self-described moderates and liberals think otherwise; large majorities find it more important to deal with illegal immigrants living in the U.S.
Americans Divided on Whether Education or Family in U.S. More Important
The immigration reform legislation will address illegal and legal immigration. And there is a question in that respect as to whether U.S. policy should favor applicants who seek to join family here or applicants who have desirable job skills.
Overall, Americans are divided, with 49% saying highly educated or skilled workers should get higher priority and 45% saying those with family members in the country should have precedence. But Americans are now more supportive of prioritizing highly educated or skilled workers than they were when Gallup last asked the question, in 2007; in two polls that year, an average of 41% put a priority on education and skills.
While the Senate bill sidesteps this issue by allowing both groups to enter the country, it gives high priority to highly skilled or educated workers to arrive via employment-based visas.
Whites are most likely to prefer allowing highly educated or skilled workers in, while blacks and Hispanics lend their majority support to admitting individuals with family members in the U.S.
Though immigration is overall a low priority for Americans, most nonetheless agree that it is important to have new immigration laws. And while the Senate immigration bill appears to be doomed in the House, given recent remarks by Republican Speaker John Boehner, Americans are highly supportive of key aims of the legislation -- including the pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Support for that provision and others is high across racial/ethnic groups and among conservatives, moderates, and liberals alike.
However, if forced to choose, a slim majority of Americans would prefer that the government focus on dealing with immigrants already in the U.S. illegally. Likewise, the public is almost evenly divided on whether the government should give priority to prospective immigrants who are educated workers or those with family ties in the U.S. This may reveal why the Senate bill received such strong support in that polarized chamber -- because it did not force senators to choose between those issues in an either/or manner, but addressed the matter in a holistic, comprehensive way. If House Republicans instead pursue a piecemeal approach to immigration, where the various aspects are handled by separate bills, and thus force lawmakers potentially to focus on one reform at the expense of another, they risk turning an issue that now enjoys widespread public support into yet another contentious, divisive political battle.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted June 13-July 5, 2013, on the Gallup Daily tracking survey, with a random sample of 4,373 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 ±2 percentage points.
For results based on sample of 2,149 non-Hispanic whites, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.
For results based on sample of 1,010 non-Hispanic blacks, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points.
For results based on sample of 1,000 Hispanics, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±6 percentage points. (332 out of the 1,000 interviews with Hispanics were conducted in Spanish.)
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking.
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 and cellphone mostly). 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.
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For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.