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Most Americans Think Illegal Immigrants Should Be Allowed to Stay

© Ryan Rodrick Beiler /SHUTTERSTOCK

John Burger - published on 06/05/15

Pew Research Center releases poll as presidential campaign gets underway

Americans are not as xenophobic as they are sometimes made out to be, according to a new Pew Research Center survey, released Friday.

The survey finds that most Americans (72%) continue to say that undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. should be allowed to stay in the country legally, if certain requirements are met.

Pew noted that the survey results are being publicized at a time when immigration is "shaping up to be a major issue" in the 2016 presidential race.

Most Americans reject the idea that giving those who came to the U.S. illegally a path to legal status is in essence “rewarding” them for bad behavior, the survey found. Nearly six-in-ten (58%) say they do not think of a path to legal status in these terms, while 36% say it is “like rewarding them for doing something wrong.”

About half (51%) say immigrants today strengthen the country because of their hard work and talents, while 41% say immigrants are a burden because they take jobs, housing and health care. The share saying that immigrants strengthen the country has declined six percentage points since last year.

The survey also found that: 

  • Slightly more say legal immigration into the United States should be decreased (31%) than increased (24%), while a 39% plurality says legal immigration should be kept at its present level.
  • About half (51%) say “a lot” can be done to reduce illegal immigration at U.S. borders, while another 29% say somewhat more can be done. Relatively few (17%) say not much or nothing can be done to improve border security. These attitudes are little changed from 2013. 

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