March 21, 2013— -- Over six in ten Americans think undocumented immigrants should be given a path to citizenship, according to a survey released Thursday by the Brookings Institution and the Public Religion Research Institute.
The survey found that 63 percent of respondents back citizenship for those without papers, while 21 percent favor deportation. Only 14 percent, one in five, favor giving undocumented immigrants legal status but not citizenship, according to the survey.
The sturdy support for citizenship in the survey could come as a relief to some Republicans who have been wavering on the issue as they work to reinvent themselves on immigration.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) caused a bit of a commotion on Tuesday when he made a speech backing immigration reform, but intentionally left out the word "citizenship." Paul later endorsed the idea that undocumented immigrants could eventually seek citizenship, but that he felt the phrase "path to citizenship" was too loaded to include in his speech.
The survey, which looked at religion, values and immigration reform, showed that while talk of reform has been dominating political circles, it's not a top issue for most Americans.
Respondents ranked immigration reform sixth out of seven issues that should be priorities for the president and Congress, with economic issues taking precedence.
The survey showed a strong divide on how Americans view immigrants. Of the respondents, 54 percent said that a growing number of newcomers from other countries helps strengthen American society. Meanwhile, 40 percent said that newcomers threaten traditional American customs and values.
A major consideration in the immigration debate will be whether to adjust the ratio of family-based visas to employment-based visas. Family ties currently account for about two-thirds of permanent legal immigration to the U.S., while employment makes up 15 percent.
The survey found that respondents strongly backed keeping families together as one of the values that should guide immigration reform, with 84 percent calling it "extremely important" or "very important." Promoting national security also scored high in importance (84 percent) as did respected the dignity of every person (82 percent), ensuring fairness to taxpayers (77 percent) and respecting the rule of law (77 percent).