- Author: Pew Research Center for the People and the Press
Majorities across all demographic and political groups say there should be a way for illegal immigrants who meet certain requirements to stay in the U.S. legally. Among those who favor providing legal status, the balance of opinion is in favor of allowing those here illegally who meet the requirements to apply for citizenship. However, no more than about half in any demographic group supports permitting illegal immigrants to apply for citizenship.
In 2011, there were about 40 million immigrants in the United States. Of that total, 11.1 million, or 28 percent, were in this country illegally.
Thinking about immigrants generally, 49 percent of Americans say they strengthen the country because of their hard work and talents, while 41 percent say they are a burden because they take jobs, health care and housing. In a June 2010 poll, 39 percent said immigrants strengthened the country while 50 percent said they were a burden.
In addition, more Americans think that the growing number of newcomers in the United States strengthens society than believe that they threaten traditional American customs and values. About half (52%) say the growing number of newcomers in the U.S. strengthens society, while 43% say the influx of newcomers threatens traditional American values and customs.
Broad Support for Legal Status for Illegal Immigrants
Support for granting legal status to illegal immigrants is wide ranging. Eight-in-ten non-Hispanic blacks (82%) and Hispanics (80%) say those in the United States illegally should be allowed to stay if they meet certain requirements; about half of blacks (52%) and Hispanics (49%) say illegal immigrants should be able to apply for citizenship.
Two-thirds of non-Hispanic whites (67%) say illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay in the country legally, while 31 percent say they should not. Four-in-ten whites say people in the United States illegally should have the chance to apply for citizenship if they meet certain requirements.
Among whites with no college degree, 61 percent favor allowing those in the U.S. illegally to stay legally, while 37 percent disagree. There is more support among white college graduates for permitting illegal immigrants to stay in the country legally (81% say they should, while just 17 percent say they should not).
The partisan differences over providing some form of legal status for illegal immigrants are modest: 76 percent of Democrats, 70 percent of independents and 64 percent of Republicans say illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay in the United States if they meet certain requirements.
Whites in both parties are divided along educational lines over how to deal with illegal immigrants in the United States: Among white Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, 92 percent of college graduates favor allowing illegal immigrants to stay in the U.S. legally if they meet certain requirements; support falls to 68 percent among white Democrats and Democratic leaners who have not completed college. Similarly, there is a 20-point education gap among white Republicans and GOP-leaning independents (75% of college graduates vs. 55% of non-college grads).
Racial, Ethnic, Partisan Differences in Views of Immigrants
While majorities across all groups support legal status for illegal immigrants, there are sharp differences in opinions about the impact of immigrants on the country. Opinions about immigrants have become somewhat more positive among most groups since 2010.
Fully 74 percent of Hispanics say that immigrants strengthen the country because of their hard work and talents. About half of blacks (52%) also say that immigrants strengthen the country, compared with just 41 percent of whites.
College graduates express far more positive opinions about the impact of immigrants than do those with less education. Fully 67 percent say immigrants strengthen the country, compared with 41 percent of those with no more than a high school education.
Opinions about whether the growing number of newcomers to the United States strengthens society or threatens American values break down along similar lines. Whites are divided (45% vs. 49%). Majorities of Hispanics (67%) and blacks (62%) say the growing number of newcomers strengthens American society.
Religion and Views of Immigrants
Majorities of all major religious groups say there should be a way for immigrants who are currently in the U.S. illegally and who meet certain requirements to stay in the country.
For the most part, those who favor legal status for illegal immigrants say they should be allowed to apply for citizenship.
Opinions among major religious groups are more divided when it comes to the impact of immigrants on the country.
A majority of white evangelical Protestants (55%) say that immigrants are burden because they take jobs, housing and health care, while about as many (58%) say they threaten traditional American customs and values.
Other religious groups have less negative views of the impact of immigrants. These differences in opinions, however, are largely the result of underlying differences between religious groups in race, political ideology, party identification and other factors; after controlling for these factors, the independent impact of religion is minimal.
Source: Originally published in Pew Research Center for the People and the Press as Most Say Illegal Immigrants Should Be Allowed To Stay, But Citizenship Is More Divisive, March 28, 2013.