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Most Americans believe the U.S. should offer more support to children at the border

Published: Wednesday, July 30 2014 6:15 a.m. MDT

FILE - In this June 18, 2014, file photo, detainees sleep in a holding cell at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility in Brownsville,Texas. For nearly two months, images of immigrant children who have crossed the border without a parent, only to wind up in concrete holding cells once in United States, have tugged at heartstrings. Yet most Americans now say U.S. law should be changed so they can be sent home quickly, without a deportation hearing. A new Associated Press-GfK poll finds two-thirds of Americans now say illegal immigration is a serious problem for the country, up 14 points since May and on par with concern about the issue in May 2010, when Arizona's passage of a strict anti-immigration measure brought the issue to national prominence. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, Pool)

Eric Gay, AP

A new survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute has found that most Americans (70 percent) think the U.S. should offer shelter and support to the thousands of unaccompanied children arriving at the border, instead of deporting the children immediately.

And nearly the same percentage of Americans (69 percent), view the unaccompanied children as refugees, not as illegal immigrants, the report says.

The survey found that the majority of Democrats at 83 percent and the majority of Republicans at 52 percent believe the children should be treated as refugees. Republicans, though, are more divided, since 42 percent of Republicans surveyed believe the children should be treated as illegal immigrants.

The survey also found that even across different religious groups, majorities agreed that the U.S. should support the children. Of Catholics, 75 percent agreed the U.S. should offer shelter and support during the process of determining whether the children should be deported or permitted to stay in the U.S. And 74 percent of minority Protestants, 67 percent of white mainline Protestants and 56 percent of white evangelical Protestants, agreed.

Religion News Service noted, "The survey sample of 1,026 adults was not large enough to capture the views of smaller religious groups, such as Jews, Muslims or Mormons."

"It makes a difference that we are talking about children facing violence and harm," PRRI CEO Robert Jones told Religion News Service. "The value of keeping families together cuts across all party lines."

The survey also found that "overall attitudes toward immigrants are hardening somewhat, with a slight upward shift in the numbers who say they are a burden, not an asset, to the United States. About one in four Americans (27 percent) see the children as illegal immigrants who should be deported," Religion News reported.

Washington Post reporter Aaron Blake reported that "as the situation on the border has deteriorated, so have Americans' views of immigrants." When in may, a New York Times poll "showed that 46 percent of Americans though all immigrants should be welcomed to the United States. That's up from 33 percent in 2010, 24 percent in 2007," Blake writes in another Washington Post article.

And a CNN poll conducted earlier this month found that more Americans believe the main focus of U.S. immigration policy should be border security rather than helping immigrants gain legal status.

Blake writes, "The question is whether this is part of a new normal or merely a momentary reaction to what has become a pretty serious situation on the border. It's quite possible it's the latter, given Americans are more likely to view immigrants today in the context of what's happening on the border, rather than in the context of legal immigration. That could explain the recent shift."

amcdonald@deseretnews.com

Twitter | @amymcdonald89

Related story:

Thousands of unaccompanied migrant children are at the border — what's the solution?

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