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Steven A. Camarota is the Director of Research at the Center for Immigration Studies.
A new poll using neutral language — and avoiding the false choice of conditional legalization vs. mass deportations — finds that most Americans want illegal immigrants to return to their home counties, rather than be given legal status. The findings also show a very large gap in intensity, with those who want illegal immigrants to head home feeling much stronger about that option than those who would like to see illegal immigrants receive legal status.
- Of likely voters, 52 percent responded that they preferred to see illegal immigrants in the United States go back to their home countries, compared to just 33 percent who would like them to be given legal status.
- There is an enormous gap in intensity between the two views on immigration. Of those who want illegal immigrants to head home, 73 percent indicated that they felt “very strongly” about that view, while just 35 percent of those who want illegal immigrants to get legal status said they felt very strongly about this view.
- One reason the public may prefer that illegals head home is a strong belief that efforts to enforce immigration laws have been inadequate — 64 percent said that enforcement of immigration laws has been “too little”, while just 10 percent said that it had been too much, and 15 percent said it was “just right”.
- When asked why there is a large illegal population in the country, voters overwhelming (71 percent) thought it was because we had not made a real effort to enforce our immigration laws. Only 18 percent said it was because we were not letting in enough immigrants legally.
- Another reason for skepticism about legalization is that most voters (69 percent) agreed with the statement that “giving legal status to illegal immigrants does not solve the problem because rewarding law breaking will only encourage more illegal immigration.” Just 26 percent disagreed.
- When asked if they had confidence that immigration laws would be enforced in the event of a legalization, just 27 percent expressed confidence that there would be enforcement, while 70 percent indicated that they were not confident immigration law would be enforced.
- Enforcement remains politically very popular. Of likely voters, 53 percent indicated that they would be more likely to support a political party that supports enforcing immigration laws vs. only 32 percent who said they would be more likely to support a party that supports legalization.
The poll was conducted by Pulse Opinion Research and is a national survey of 1,000 likely voters conducted January 23-24, 2013. The margin of error for questions is +/-3%. Question wording is provided in the table.