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Pew: Most Americans support legal status for undocumented immigrants

Nearly three-quarters of Americans believe undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. should be allowed to stay in the country if they met certain requirements, according to a poll published Thursday by the Pew Research Center. 

The poll comes as a clutch of Republicans announced their candidacies for the 2016 presidential election and two executive actions announced by President Barack Obama in November have become entangled in a lawsuit led by Texas, along with Arizona and 24 other states.

The poll found that while Americans strongly support allowing unauthorized immigrants to stay in the country, other opinions on immigrants and immigration are more mixed. 

Overall, about 42 percent of the American public believes that unauthorized immigrants should be able to apply for U.S. citizenship, and around 26 percent believe that they should be limited to permanent residency. 

Even among Republicans, a majority support letting undocumented immigrants stay. Around 56 percent of Republicans agreed with the statement that there "should be a way for undocumented immigrants to stay in the country, if they meet certain requirements."

Support from Democrats was much deeper — 80 percent of those polled agreed with the same statement. 

This may be in part because of wide support among Republican for the idea that creating a path to legal status is "rewarding" bad behavior. 

Around 58 percent of Republicans agreed with the statement that creating a path to legal status is "like rewarding them for doing something wrong." Pew research shows that this idea has gained traction among Republicans since a poll conducted in May 2013, which showed that 49 percent of Republicans agreed with the statement. 

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This issue also breaks along age and racial lines. 

Pew's research shows that roughly four in ten adults over 50 think that giving undocumented immigrants a path to legal status is a reward for wrongdoing, compared to 27 percent of those who are under 30.  

Less than a quarter of Hispanics believe that legal status is reward for doing something wrong, while 41 percent of whites felt similarly. 

And Hispanic support for legal status is very strong. Nearly nine-tenths of Hispanics support a path to legal status, and 54 percent said that undocumented immigrants should be allowed to become citizens. 

Just 51 percent of those polled said that immigrants today strengthen the country because of their hard work and talents, while 41 percent called immigrants a burden because they take jobs, housing and healthcare. 

Broken down along party lines, Republicans were most likely to agree that immigrants are a burden on the country. Nearly 63 percent of Republicans agreed with this statement, while  27 percent said that immigrants strengthen the country. 

Data from Pew shows that the number of people who think immigrants help the country has dropped six percentage points since last year. 

While Americans support legal status for those already in the country, a plurality of Americans want to keep immigration levels stable. This idea has gradually gained support among Americans even as support for decreasing immigration has dwindled. 

Among Americans, 39 percent want immigration levels to be kept the same, while 31 percent want immigration levels decreased. Just under a quarter of Americans want immigration increased, Pew found. 

This also breaks down along partisan lines as just over 40 percent of Republicans want immigration levels decreased, while most independents and Democrats want immigration to be kept at present levels. 

Contained in the poll was a warning to both parties about their handling of immigration. 

While Democrats rate their own party better than Republicans when it comes to handling immigration, the support for Obama's handling of the issue has plunged. 

Only 37 percent of those polled support the president's handling of immigration. Like support for a pathway to legal residency or citizenship, the issue breaks down along racial lines. Whites disprove of Obama's performance by more than two to one, Pew said. Even among Hispanics, Obama has lost support. 

According to the poll,  48 percent of Hispanics disapprove of the president's performance, while 44 percent approve. 

TucsonSentinel.com's original reporting and curation of border and immigration news is generously supported in part by a grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

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A dozen people in Tucson showed their support for deferred action as part of a series of public actions around the country organized by Mi Familia Vota.