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Poll: Americans Split over Birthright Citizenship

CBS News Poll analysis by the CBS News Polling Unit: Sarah Dutton, Jennifer De Pinto, Fred Backus and Anthony Salvanto.

Concerns about illegal immigration have spurred some Republicans to call for a debate over the 14th Amendment, which provides a constitutional guarantee of citizenship for anyone born in the United States.

The American public is almost evenly divided as to whether current law should be changed so that children of illegal immigrants born in the United States do not automatically become citizens, a new CBS News poll finds. Forty-nine percent say the law should be kept as is, while 47 percent say it should be changed.

Among Democrats, 59 percent say the law should stay as is. Fifty-four percent of Republicans think it should be changed so that children born to illegal immigrants do not automatically become U.S. citizens. Independents are divided: 47 percent say the law should stay as is, while 49 percent say it should be changed.

Most Americans continue to see illegal immigration as a very serious problem in the U.S. - a view that has held steady over the past four years. Sixty-one percent say it is a "very serious" problem, while an additional 27 percent say it is somewhat serious.

Moreover, 77 percent of Americans think the U.S. could be doing more to stop illegal immigrants from entering the country. Fewer than one in five thinks the U.S. is doing all it can.

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Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has said he may introduce a constitutional amendment to change the 14th Amendment, while other Republican leaders have advocated for congressional hearings on the issue of birthright citizenship. The Obama administration, meanwhile, has blasted Republicans for considering a change to the Constitution in lieu of considering Democrats' plans for comprehensive immigration reform.

The immigration debate was pushed to the forefront of national politics after Arizona passed a controversial state law requiring law enforcement to check a person's immigration status in certain situations and requiring immigrants carry their identification papers in public.

Fifty-nine percent of Americans see Arizona's new law as about right, while 26 percent think the law goes too far and 14 percent say it does not go far enough. These opinions are similar to last month.

While the vast majority say illegal immigration is a problem, 51 percent say they think illegal immigrants take jobs that Americans don't want. Fewer - 39 percent - say illegal immigrants take jobs away from Americans. Views on this have been fairly consistent over the last few years.

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This poll was conducted among a random sample of 1,082 adults nationwide, interviewed by telephone August 20-24, 2010. Phone numbers were dialed from random digit dial samples of both standard land-line and cell phones. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. The error for subgroups is higher.

This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

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