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Voters split on whether children crossing border illegally should stay

But nearly three in four Californians support proposed path to citizenship legislation

California voters are largely split on whether the tens of thousands of unaccompanied children who crossed the border illegally from Central America should be allowed to stay, but support of a “path to citizenship” for immigrants already in the country continues to be strong, according to results from the latest USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences/Los Angeles Times Poll.

Forty-eight percent of Californians said the unaccompanied children who illegally crossed the border should be allowed to stay months or years while awaiting a hearing, as opposed to 46 percent who said the children should be sent back immediately, the poll showed. Among white voters, 44 percent said the children should be allowed to stay and 51 percent said they should be sent back. Latino voters are in favor of allowing the unaccompanied minors to stay, 66-26.

But nearly three in four California voters, 73 percent, favor proposed legislation that would create a path to citizenship for those already in the country illegally, while also increasing border patrols and requiring employers to verify the immigration status of employees. Twenty-one percent of voters oppose the proposal, according to the poll.

“The controversy over young immigrants has caused support for comprehensive immigration reform to fall dramatically in national public opinion polls and may have contributed to President Obama’s decision to delay action on this issue,” said Dan Schnur, director of the poll and executive director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics of USC. “But Californians have had a much different reaction. Even though California voters are divided over whether these young immigrants should be allowed to remain in this country, they are still overwhelmingly supportive of broader immigration reform. Californians may be conflicted on this specific issue, but they are still strong supporters of not only stronger border enforcement but of a pathway to citizenship as well.”

With the ‘path to citizenship’ proposal, there’s a little something for everybody.

Drew Lieberman

Support for immigration reform has held steady since the question was last asked in March 2013, when California voters favored immigration reform 71-21.

“With the ‘path to citizenship’ proposal, there’s a little something for everybody,” said Drew Lieberman, vice president of Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, part of the bipartisan team with Republican polling firm American Viewpoint that conducted the poll. “It’s got the accountability measures, stronger security, and it ends with an opportunity for people to succeed and get ahead if they work hard and do the right things.”

Said David Kanevsky, vice president of Republican polling firm American Viewpoint: “Voters are compassionate to those already here, but they are not open border advocates. What they don’t want to do is have solutions that encourage more of the same problem.”

Illegal immigration seen as a crisis

By a large margin, California voters said illegal immigration is a crisis or major problem for the state. Seventy-two percent of California voters said illegal immigration is a “crisis or major problem” for the state, as opposed to 26 percent who deem it minor or not a problem at all. Among Latinos, two-thirds of voters said illegal immigration was a “crisis or major problem.”

Voters oppose, by a slim margin, a plan to allocate $3 million in taxpayer funds to nonprofit organizations to provide legal representation to these unaccompanied children facing deportation. Forty-eight percent of voters opposed such spending, as opposed to 45 percent who support the plan. White voters oppose the plan 53-41, with Latino voters in favor of the spending plan 60-33.

Among Latino voters, support for the $3 million spending plan wanes the longer they’ve been in the United States. Latinos born outside the U.S. are in favor 66-26, but support drops among first-generation Latinos, 57-36. Latinos who are second-generation Americans are only slightly in favor at 48-44.

“This is evidence that the concern is a lot more financial in nature; there is outright opposition to spending money,” Lieberman said. “It seems like a very high bar to cross.”

When asked if they were concerned about having U.S. Border Control facilities housing immigrant detainees in their own communities, 47 percent of voters said they were concerned, and 36 percent said they were “not at all concerned.” Latino voters were split 41-41.

The latest USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll, the largest statewide survey of registered voters, was conducted Sept. 2-8 and includes a significant oversample of Latino voters as well as one of the most robust cell phone samples in the state. The full sample of 1,507 registered voters has a margin of error of +/- 2.9 percentage points.

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Voters split on whether children crossing border illegally should stay

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