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Poll: Most Americans Believe Undocumented Immigrants Should Be Allowed To Remain In U.S. Legally

About 42% said they should be allowed to apply for U.S. citizenship, while 26% said they should only be able to apply for permanent residency. Immigration is expected to be a major topic in the upcoming 2016 presidential election.

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Almost three-quarters of Americans believe immigrants without legal documentation should be allowed to stay in the country legally as long as certain requirements are met, a survey published Thursday by the Pew Research Center found.

Of the 72% who said they support granting legal status to undocumented immigrants, 42% said they should be allowed to apply for U.S. citizenship, while 26% said they should only be able to apply for permanent residency.

The support of Americans for various immigration policies will matter in the 2016 campaign, as the issue has come up often in the last month. Hillary Clinton announced support for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, while Jeb Bush said he supports legal status for them.

The survey also comes as portions of President Obama's executive actions on immigration, which would protect undocumented youth and parents of U.S. citizens from deportation, remain stalled in federal court.

A majority of Republicans, 56%, support a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants in the U.S. However, about 63% of Republicans said immigrants are a burden on the country, while 27% said they strengthen it.

Most Democrats and independents, who for the most part support a path to legalization for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., said immigrants strengthen the country. Half said the party was doing a good job representing their views on illegal immigration, while 43% disagree, the survey found.

About 34% of Republican-leaning independents and Republicans, some of whom have been critical of the GOP's stance on undocumented immigration, said the party is doing a good job of representing their views on the topic. While 59% said it is not doing a good job.

The Pew Research Center also found that about 58% of Americans don't believe giving undocumented immigrants legal status is rewarding them for bad behavior. While 36% said it is "like rewarding them for doing something wrong."

Of the 2,002 adults surveyed in May, most think border security can be improved, with 51% saying "a lot" can be done to reduce undocumented immigration. Another 29% said somewhat more can be done and 17% said not much or nothing can be done to improve border security.

Adolfo Flores is a national security correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles. He focuses on immigration.

Contact Adolfo Flores at

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