Most Americans Favor Reuniting Young Migrants With Family in U.S., Poll Finds

By Lesli A. Maxwell — September 03, 2014 2 min read
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While the surge of nearly 60,000 unaccompanied Central American minors over the U.S.-Mexico border in the last 10 months has created a major political conundrum for the Obama administration, most Americans express some sympathy for the plight of the young migrants.

In a new national survey from the Pew Research Center, 69 percent of Americans say they favor allowing the unaccompanied minors from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala to join their families already living in the United States while their immigration cases are pending. A smaller majority—56 percent—said the minors should be allowed to attend public schools, while 51 percent said they support housing the children in government-run shelters. (Federal law requires that public schools enroll all children, regardless of their immigration status.)

Those findings are part of a larger survey of Americans’ views on immigration policies that reveal that more people favor the federal government placing a bigger priority on tightening border security and enforcing immigration laws than they did at the beginning of President Barack Obama’s second term.

The Pew survey shows that 33 percent of the 1,501 adults who were polled in late August said securing the U.S.-Mexico border and toughening up enforcement of immigration laws should be the Obama administration’s top priority. That’s up from 25 percent who said the same in a February 2013 poll.

The new survey also shows that 23 percent of Americans want the Obama administration to prioritize creating a pathway for immigrants in the United States illegally to become citizens if they meet certain requirements. Forty-one percent said enforcement and a pathway to legalization should be given equal priority.

With the ongoing standoff in Congress over how to fix the nation’s immigration system, Obama has been weighing whether to take new executive action delay the deportation of millions of undocumented immigrants. In 2012, the president granted reprieve to eligible young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally by a parent or guardian as children.

Digging a little deeper into respondents’ views on the surge of unaccompanied children from Central America—many of whom were fleeing extreme poverty and violence—the survey reveals some sharp divisions by ethnicity and political party.

Though 67 percent of whites said unaccompanied minors should be permitted to join their family members in the U.S. while their court cases are pending, far fewer—51 percent—agreed that they should be allowed to attend public schools. Among Hispanics, 78 percent said the minors should be allowed to attend public schools while awaiting the outcome of their immigration cases.

And while a majority of Republicans—57 percent—favor reuniting the chidlren with their family members in the U.S. while their cases are pending, just 40 percent agreed that they should be allowed to attend public schools. Eighty percent of Democrats, by contrast, favor family reunification for the Central American children and 71 percent support their attendance in public schools.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.