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Is A 'Pathway To Citizenship' The Right Concern?

Much of the debate over whether and how to overhaul the country's immigration policy has hinged on whether and how to create a pathway to citizenship. But a majority of Latinos now say that's less important for unauthorized immigrants than giving them relief from the threat of deportation.

That finding comes from a Pew report based on new surveys of Latinos and Asian-Americans, who together make up about two-thirds of all the legal immigrants in the U.S. (Latinos make up most of the population of immigrants who are here illegally.) Fifty-five percent of Latinos believe deportation is a bigger issue than citizenship, compared with 35 percent who believe the reverse; 6 percent say both are of equal importance. For Asian-Americans, that spread was much closer: 49 percent to 44 percent.

More foreign-born Latinos think it's important to reduce the threat of deportation than do the native born — which probably isn't surprising, considering that 97 percent of all the people the U.S. deported in 2010 came from Latin American countries. Eighty percent of foreign-born Latinos said they wanted "significant immigration reform" to pass this year. (Fifty-seven percent of native-born Latinos felt the same way.)

The surveys' findings track with evidence that shows there are lots of reasons why people with legal status might not prioritize citizenship. Most legal immigrants in the United States are not citizens. They enjoy a host of rights short of voting and things like the ability to serve on a jury. The process of becoming a full citizen for those extra benefits might not seem worth the cost and effort for those who are eligible.

Another interesting finding is that Asian-Americans and Latinos are more concerned about standard civic issues than they are about immigration — they say domestic issues like jobs and employment, education, health care and the federal budget deficit are all more important.

But that doesn't mean the issue is without political consequence: Pluralities of both Latinos and Asian-Americans say they would blame Republicans if an immigration bill failed to pass, while about 3 in 10 say they would blame Democrats.

  • Majorities or pluralities of both groups say that granting legal status to unauthorized immigrants would reward illegal behavior. Fifty-three percent of Latinos and 48 percent of Asian-Americans hold this view.
  • Latinos (67 percent) are more likely than Asian-Americans (47 percent) to say the U.S. immigration system needs to be completely rebuilt or needs major changes.
  • Three in four Asian-American adults are foreign-born, which Pew says likely explains why far more Asian-Americans say they or their relatives have had some personal experience with the country's immigration system. (About 7 in 10 Asian-Americans say so.)
  • Asian-Americans and Latinos have more favorable views of the president than the population at large: 54 percent of Latinos say they approve of his job performance, while 62 percent of Asian-Americans approve of the job he's doing. (That's compared with 41 percent of the general public.) Latinos and Asian-Americans are also more likely to say they are satisfied with the direction the country is headed — 38 and 34 percent, respectively. (That's compared with just 14 percent of the general public.)
  • Large majorities of both Asian-Americans and Latinos — about 8 in 10 — say they are satisfied with their lives.
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