CBS Poll: Most Support Immigration Reform

generic immigration immigrants customs border senate congress capitol CBS/AP

The Senate has departed Washington for a Memorial Day weekend break, leaving on the table an immigration reform bill that would make extensive changes to the current immigration system, including legalizing millions of illegal immigrants. The legislators will be going home to an electorate that, by and large, is supportive of the bill — regardless of political leaning.

A new CBS News/New York Times Poll finds most Americans surveyed support measures contained in the bill, including a guest worker program and the possibility of permanent residency for illegal immigrants who have lived and worked in the U.S. About half support changing the immigration system to give priority to immigrants based on background rather than family ties.

Unlike other issues (like the war in Iraq) which typically have reflected partisan polarization, support from the public for these reforms is, for the most part, bipartisan.

Views Of Illegal Immigration

Most Americans are highly critical of current U.S. immigration policy, especially when it comes to illegal immigration. Half thinks that current immigration policy has so much wrong with it that it needs to be completely rebuilt. Almost as many see it as needing fundamental changes; few think just minor changes are needed.

U.S. Immigration Policy Needs:

… To Be Completely Rebuilt
49%
… Fundamental Changes
41%
… Minor Changes
8%

Illegal immigration is a particular concern; 61% think it is a very serious problem, and another 30% think it is somewhat serious. Concern about the issue has risen in the past few months, from 56% in January.

In part, this may be because so many see illegal immigration as widespread. The majority of Americans ¬— three in four — believe that most of the people who have come to the United States in the last few years are in the country illegally. Just 16% think most are here legally.

Americans have a positive impression of immigrants generally. When asked without reference to immigrants' legality, majorities of Americans say immigrants contribute to this country and work as hard, or harder, than people born here.

However, illegal immigrants are viewed particularly negatively: 70% think they weaken the economy because they use public services but don't all pay taxes; 45% think that terrorism against the U.S. has increased as a result of illegal immigration.

Americans point to the government as not addressing that issue adequately. More then four in five — 82% — think the U.S. could be doing more along its borders to keep illegal immigrants from crossing over into the U.S.; just 14% think the U.S. is now doing all it can.

Is The U.S. Doing All That Can Be Expected To Keep Illegal Immigrants Out?

Yes
14%
No
82%

When asked to volunteer the most important problem facing the country today, immigration ties for third place, along with gas prices. (The war in Iraq tops the list by a wide margin.)

The Most Important Problem Facing The U.S. Today:

War In Iraq
31%
Economy and Jobs
8%
Gas/Heating Oil Crisis
7%
Immigration
7%
Health Care
5%

Nearly four in five Americans have heard or read at least some about changing U.S. immigration laws, including 26% who have heard or read a lot.

  • Joel Roberts

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