Surge of Central American Children Roils U.S. Immigration Debate

As the president and Congress struggle over how to deal with the influx of thousands of unaccompanied minors from Central America across the U.S.-Mexican border, a new survey finds that the public favors a shift in U.S. policy to expedite the legal processing of the children.US border influx response

President Obama gets very low ratings for his handling of the issue. Just 28% of the public approves of the way he is handling the surge of children from Central America, while twice as many (56%) disapprove. That is one of the lowest ratings for his handling of any issue since he became president. But Obama’s overall job rating is virtually unchanged from April: 44% approve of his job performance while 49% disapprove.

And as was the case in January, neither party has a significant edge when it comes to dealing with immigration; 42% say the Republican Party could do a better job on the issue while 40% say the Democratic Party.

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted July 8-14 among 1,805 adults, finds that about half (53%) think that the legal process for dealing with Central American children who cross the border illegally should be accelerated, even if that means that some children who are eligible for asylum are deported. Fewer (39%) support staying with the current policy, even though the process could take a long time and the children will stay in the U.S. in the interim.

Most Republicans (60%) and independents (56%) think legal processing of the children should be sped up even if it means some children who are eligible for asylum are deported. Democrats are divided: 46% favor an expedited legal process, but about as many (47%) favor maintaining the current policy, though that might result in a lengthy legal process and a long stay in the U.S. for the children.
The public remains supportive of a broad revamp of the immigration system to allow people in the U.S. illegally to gain legal status if they meet certain requirements. But overall support for a path to legal status has slipped to 68% from 73% in February. Those who favor providing legal status for undocumented immigrants were asked if they should be able to apply for citizenship or permanent residency. Overall, 40% say they should be able to apply for citizenship, down from 46% in February.

Republicans, who supported a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants by nearly two-to-one in February (64% to 34%), favor it by a much narrower 54%-43% margin today. Notably, more Republicans and Republicans leaners who agree with the Tea Party now say undocumented immigrants should not be allowed to stay in the U.S. legally than favor a path to legal status (56% to 41%). In February, the balance of opinion among Tea Party Republicans was exactly the reverse: 56% said undocumented immigrants in the U.S. illegally should be allowed to stay legally while 41% opposed this.

By contrast, there has been far less change in opinions among Democrats and independents: 77% of Democrats and 70% of independents say there should be a way for people in the U.S. illegally to stay legally if they meet certain requirements, down four points each from February.
Little Change in Assessments of Obama

In five national surveys this year, Obama’s overall job approval has changed very little. Currently, 44% approve of his job performance, virtually unchanged from earlier this year. For a comparison of views of Obama with those of his predecessor George W. Bush at similar points in their presidencies, see today’s Fact Tank post.

While Obama gets mixed ratings, at best, for being trustworthy (51%), a strong leader (47%) and able to get things done (44%), these ratings also are little changed since reaching all-time lows last December, shortly after the government shutdown and the flawed rollout of the health care website.Positive Views of Obama Fell in 2013, But Have Changed Little So Far in 2014

At the same time, the public’s views of the nation’s economy and local job availability also have shown little change — and remain very negative despite recent job growth and a declining unemployment rate. Just 19% say economic conditions in the U.S. are excellent or good while 81% rate conditions as only fAir or poor. Roughly six-in-ten (62%) say jobs are difficult to find locally while only about half as many (29%) say there are plenty of jobs available. While the share saying jobs are available is much higher than in 2009 or 2010, it has not changed over the past year.

Obama’s rating for handling the economy remains in negative territory. Currently, 40% approve of the way he is handling the economy while 56% disapprove. His job rating on the economy has been around 40% for most of the past five years.GOP Leads on Economy, Democrats on Abortion/Contraception Policies

The Republicans now hold an eight-point advantage as the party better able to deal with the economy (47% to 39%). The GOP had an insignificant 42%-38% edge in January.

When it comes to other issues, the two parties run about even on foreign policy and immigration. The Democrats hold a five-point lead (45% to 40%) as better able to deal with health care and a more substantial 12-point advantage (48% to 36%) as the party better able to deal with policies on abortion and contraception.

There are gender and age differences in views of which party can better handle abortion and contraception policies. On this issue, men favor the Democrats by six points (46% to 40%) while women support the Democrats by 18 points (51% to 33%). Among those younger than 30, the Democrats lead the GOP by 54% to 36%. By contrast, the two parties run even among those 65 and older (39% Democrats, 39% Republicans).
Views of Policy to Deal with Children Crossing Border

Most Americans (89%) have heard at least a little about the large number of Central American children who have crossed the border illegally. Nearly six-in-ten (57%) say they have heard a lot about the recent influx of children.Hispanics Divided over How to Deal with Children in the U.S. Illegally

Respondents were asked about U.S. policy to deal with the influx of children from Central America: Under that policy “children from Central America who enter the U.S. illegally go through a legal process that can take months” before the children are either given asylum or are deported.

Overall, 53% favor speeding up this legal process “even if it means some children eligible for asylum are deported.” About four-in-ten (39%) say the U.S. should follow current policy “even though the process could take a long time while the children remain here.”By 57% to 38%, people younger than 30 favor sticking with current law even if that means the children may stay in the U.S. for a long time. Majorities in older age groups favor speeding up the legal process for Central American children here illegally even if it results in some children who are eligible for asylum being deported.

Hispanics are divided, with 49% in support of following current U.S. policy and 47% favoring an expedited legal process for the Central American children. Most whites (56%) favor speeding up the legal process, while African Americans, by 53% to 42%, support following current law.

Among ideological groups, conservative Republicans are most likely to favor speeding up the legal process to deal with the Central American children here illegally (65% favor). By contrast, liberal Democrats are the only group in which a majority (54%) supports following current U.S. policy in dealing with the children.

Mohini Porwal [ B Sc]
Trainee News Editor