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A Majority of Americans Favor a Path to Citizenship for Illegal Immigrants

Congress is facing a Friday deadline that would furlough 30,000 unessential workers from the Department of Homeland Security and force the rest of the massive agency to work without a paycheck. The shutdown battle is being waged largely over immigration policy – even though new data suggests the U.S. public as a whole doesn’t share the passion of hardcore conservatives who want to defund Obama’s executive action granting up to 5 million illegal immigrants protection from deportation.

A large poll released Tuesday shows that a majority of Americans favor a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Every state holds that view. The results of the survey released by the Washington-based Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) suggest that on immigration in general, hardliners don’t have the majority of Americans on their side. The findings are part of PRRI’s larger American Values Atlas, based on a survey of 50,000 Americans and presented interactively here.

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The survey asked, “How should the immigration system deal with immigrants who are currently living in the U.S. illegally?” Respondents were given three options: “Allow them a way to become citizens provided they meet certain requirements,” “Allow them to become permanent legal resident, but not citizens,” or “Identify and deport them.”

Across the U.S., 77 percent of people chose either the citizenship or permanent residency option, with a majority of 60 percent choosing citizenship. Respondents from Delaware were the most receptive to the citizenship option; 66 percent chose it. Kansas and Vermont were close behind, at 65 percent. But even Wyoming, the state most resistant to the idea, still showed a majority in favor of citizenship at 52 percent with an additional nine percent choosing permanent residency.

The Republicans’ stated objection to Obama’s executive actions on immigration is that they were an illegal expansion of executive authority. Yet many of the most vocal supporters of using the DHS funding bill to challenge the White House, such as Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Rep. Steve King (R-IA), are also among the most ardent supporters of tougher immigration measures.

Earlier, House Republicans passed, and Senate Republicans introduced, a funding bill that would allow DHS to remain open; but it had riders withholding money to fund President Obama’s executive actions shielding millions of illegal immigrants from deportation. With the shutdown now less than 72 hours away, all indications are that Republicans will pay a significant political price if no solution is found -- even if the bill is blocked by Democrats in the Senate.

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In the House, particularly, there’s a substantial caucus of lawmakers that seems willing to risk the political fallout over a DHS shutdown largely on the basis of members’ views on immigration. The decision last week by a federal judge in Texas to issue an injunction preventing the administration from implementing the executive orders was seen by many Republicans as a potential off-ramp that would allow them to fund DHS with no strings attached while the courts sorted out the legality of Obama’s actions.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell appeared ready to take that path yesterday, proposing a vote on a “clean” DHS bill and another on the measures blocking the executive orders. The plan has run into stiff GOP resistance in the House.

Related: GOP Doesn’t Blink on DHS Funding After Judge Bars Immigration Order

Interestingly, survey respondents from the states most commonly associated with the border crisis were less likely than Americans as a whole to favor mass deportation. In Texas, 80 percent of respondents were in favor of some form of legal residence, while only 17 percent called for deporting all illegal immigrants. In Arizona and New Mexico, 18 percent of respondents picked deportation, while 79 percent and 80 percent, respectively, chose a form of legal residence.

California, the only other state bordering Mexico, had 84 percent in favor of citizenship or legal residence and 14 percent in favor of deportation.

The PRRI findings on immigration don’t vary wildly from other survey data. In 2013, Gallup asked a representative sample of U.S. adults if they were in favor of a program to allow illegal immigrants citizenship if they met a far more specific set of criteria than PRRI’s vague “meet certain requirements” language, including “paying taxes and a penalty, passing a criminal background check, and learning English.” Under those circumstance, 88 percent of adults were in favor.

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