A majority of Americans favor an immigration reform plan that allows undocumented people to apply for legal status, according to a new poll released Thursday.
Fifty-two percent say they support such a plan while 46 percent oppose it, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey shows.
The survey shows that a majority of the public favors the general outline of a comprehensive immigration reform plan that President Barack Obama is expected to push in his second term.
For the first time in NBC's poll, a majority say they support a path to legal status. The question was last posed in April 2007, when President George W. Bush spearheaded a push for comprehensive immigration reform. Then, 44 percent supported legal status while 51 percent opposed it.
But what to do with the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. remains one of the most difficult problems to resolve for lawmakers.
President Obama supports a plan that would provide an earned pathway to full citizenship for undocumented immigrants who pass a criminal background check, pay fines and back taxes, and learn English, along with other requirements. The White House's 2011 blueprint for immigration reform says that it would take eight years to acquire a green card (legal permanent residency) and then an additional five years to become a citizen.
In a separate Hart Research Associates/Public Opinion Strategies poll sponsored by pro-immigration reform groups, including the National Immigration Forum, America's Voice, and SEIU, 63 percent of respondents say they want immigration reform to include a path to citizenship.
But others who want to pass immigration reform don't support a special pathway to full citizenship. For example, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) has released a plan that would allow undocumented people to apply for legal status that stops short of citizenship. The requirements would be similar to what Obama's plan requires to apply for citizenship.
Rubio told The Wall Street Journal last weekend that undocumented immigrants could attempt to pursue a green card and citizenship under his plan, but that the process "would have to be long enough to ensure that it's not easier to do it this way than it would be the legal way."
And there are others on the right-wing of the conservative movement who oppose any form of earned citizenship, dismissing it as a form of "amnesty."