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Partisan Divide Widens Over Immigration Policy

New citizens wave American flags during a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services naturalization ceremony  in Miami.
New citizens wave American flags during a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services naturalization ceremony in Miami.

It probably won't surprise you that there's a growing polarization among Americans over how to deal with several immigration policy proposals.

Whether it's Donald Trump's idea for a massive border fence or the proposal to change the Constitution so that babies of unauthorized residents aren't automatically made citizens, Republicans and Democrats are hardening their views, according to a new national survey issued by the Washington, D.C.-based Pew Research Center.

Take the border fence idea. A little less than half, or 46 percent, of those surveyed by Pew support building a fence along the entire border with Mexico. Forty-eight percent oppose the fence. But drill down into the party identifications and you find that Republicans overwhelmingly support the idea, 73 percent to 23 percent, while Democrats oppose it 66 percent to 23 percent. Independents are also opposed to the border fence, 52 percent to 43 percent.

There's a similar chasm when people are asked whether they favor changing the Constitution so that the parents must be legal residents of the U.S. for their newborn child to be a citizen.

Overall, people oppose that proposal by a healthy 60 percent to 37 percent. Democrats are against changing the 14th Amendment, which guarantees "birthright citizenship," 75 percent to 23 percent. However, 53 percent of Republicans favor repealing the amendment; 44 percent are opposed. It should be mentioned that Trump says changing the law wouldn't require amending the Constitution, while many legal scholars disagree.

There is one immigration issue on which members of both parties find some common ground.

The Pew survey finds large majorities in both parties in favor of allowing immigrants in this country illegally to stay legally, if certain requirements are met. However, the pollsters did not ask about specific requirements such as learning English or paying a fine.

Republicans favor allowing people in this country legally to stay 66 percent to 32 percent. Democrats support that idea 80 percent to 17 percent. Independents are also on board with some form of legalization, 74 percent to 24 percent.

What's more, among those who say they favor allowing unauthorized residents to stay, most believe the immigrants should be allowed to apply for citizenship, not just permanent residency. That's true for all political affiliations.

The Pew survey was conducted Sept. 22-27 covering 1,502 Americans over the age of 18. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.9 percentage points.

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Richard Gonzales is NPR's National Desk Correspondent based in San Francisco. Along with covering the daily news of region, Gonzales' reporting has included medical marijuana, gay marriage, drive-by shootings, Jerry Brown, Willie Brown, the U.S. Ninth Circuit, the California State Supreme Court and any other legal, political, or social development occurring in Northern California relevant to the rest of the country.
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