Poll Finds Support for Treating Child Migrants as Refugees
July 29, 2014, 1:00am


Most Americans surveyed in a poll released Tuesday said the United States should give shelter and assistance to children from Central America coming here illegally without their parents while the authorities decide whether they can stay.

In the poll, by the Public Religion Research Institute, a nonpartisan organization that conducts research on religious values in public life, 69 percent of respondents said the children should be treated as refugees and should be allowed to stay “if authorities determine it is not safe for them to return to their home country.”

About a quarter of Americans in the survey, 27 percent, said the minors should be “treated as illegal immigrants” and deported to their home countries.

Of those polled, 56 percent said the families of children coming from Central America were acting to keep the young people safe from violence in their home countries. Some 38 percent of those polled said the families were “taking advantage of American good will” and trying to stay illegally in the United States.

Graphic | Children at the Border The number of children crossing the U.S. border alone has doubled since last year. Answers to key questions on the crisis.
“There is broad consistency for a policy offering support for the unaccompanied children and a determination process, not just an open door,” said Robert P. Jones, chief executive of the research institute. “At the same time, there are concerns that policy may bring some negative consequences, and the situation has raised people’s concerns about immigrants overall.”

More than 57,000 unaccompanied minors have been detained crossing the southwest border illegally since Oct. 1, most from three countries in Central America. About half of the people responding to the poll said they had heard “a lot” about the crisis. In Washington, Congress is debating a request from the White House for $3.7 billion in emergency funds to deal with the surge and also considering bills that would accelerate deportations of the youths. With both parties divided on the issues, it was unclear whether any money would be approved before the summer recess begins next week.

Even some Americans who favored refuge for the youths expressed worries about the impact of such a policy, Mr. Jones said. In the poll, 59 percent said allowing children to stay would “encourage others to ignore our laws and increase illegal immigration.”

In a tracking poll by the institute, the share of Americans who regard immigrants as a social burden increased to 42 percent last week from 38 percent in the first week of April, while the share who said immigrants strengthen the country through their hard work fell to 49 percent last week from 54 percent in the first week of April.

Video | In Mexico, a Stalled Journey While thousands of child migrants from Central America have crossed the Rio Grande to U.S. soil, thousands more don’t make it that far. Many end up detained or broke in towns like Reynosa, Mexico.
But the concerns did not affect broad overall support for Congress to pass legislation with a pathway to citizenship for immigrants already living illegally in the country. Last week support for that option was 58 percent, according to the survey, down only three percentage points from early April.

The poll was bilingual, in English and Spanish, and was based on telephone interviews conducted from July 23 to July 27. Interviews were conducted with a random sample of 1,026 adults over 17 in the continental United States, including 512 respondents on cellphones. The margin of error was plus or minus three percentage points.