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Pew: Majority of Americans Support Legalizing Undocumented Immigrants

Invited students from Yuma and Pueblo, Colorado, listen to a Colorado Legislature debate on a bill which would grant in-state tuition to undocumented students, inside the State Capitol, in Denver, March 5, 2013.
A new survey finds the majority of Americans say there should be a way for foreigners living illegally in the United States to stay in the country if they meet certain conditions.

The study published Thursday by the Pew Research Center shows 71 percent of Americans favor granting legal status to the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. What kind of legal status, though, is a more divisive issue.

Forty-three percent of the public supports a path to citizenship, while 27 percent prefers just legal residency.

The United States is struggling with a 7.7 percent unemployment rate, a condition that in the past has motivated many native-born Americans to accuse foreigners of stealing jobs and using up social resources.

Despite the sluggish economy, Pew’s national survey of 1,501 adults conducted earlier this month found that “overall attitudes about immigrants in the United States are more positive than negative.”

The support for granting legal status to undocumented immigrants reached across racial and political lines.

The Pew survey found that about 80 percent of both Hispanics and non-Hispanic blacks, and 67 percent of non-Hispanic whites, support granting legal status to undocumented immigrants who meet certain requirements.

Among the requirements being considered by lawmakers drafting immigration reform are fines, back taxes and a background check.

Impact on the country

Nearly half of the respondents, 49 percent, said they agreed that “immigrants today strengthen the country because of their hard work and talents.” The opposite view attracted 41 percent of respondents, who agreed to a statement saying that “immigrants today are a burden on our country because they take our jobs, housing and health care.”

Public perceptions of immigrants’ impact on the country have changed significantly in the past nearly two decades. In July 1994, 63 percent of survey respondents viewed immigrants as a burden rather than a strength.

Despite the overall improved perceptions of immigrants’ contributions to the U.S., there are divisions on the subject across political and racial lines.

Pew found that 74 percent of Hispanics said immigrants’ hard work and talents strengthen the country, while 52 percent of blacks and just 41 percent of whites felt the same way.

Fifty-eight percent of Democrats said immigrants strengthen the country, but most Republicans said they are a burden because they take jobs and health care.