The results of a Reuters/Ipsos poll highlight the complexity of
the child migrant issue for Obama, who has sought to emphasize his
compassion while also insisting that his administration plans to
send home most of the children, many of whom have fled violence in
The poll, conducted on July 31-Aug. 5, found that 51 percent of
Americans believe the unaccompanied children being detained at the
U.S.-Mexico border should be allowed to remain in the country for
some length of time.
That included 38 percent who thought the unaccompanied youngsters
should be sheltered and cared for until it was deemed safe for them
to return home. Thirteen percent said the children should be allowed
to stay in the United States, while 32 percent said the children
should be immediately deported.
"Overall, people are humane and they understand that no matter what
our situation is with the budget, whether or not we can afford this,
these are kids. No matter what the immigration system is, they are
innocent," said Lance Lee, 42, of Alabama, who took part in the
But Lee said he wanted to see the border sealed to prevent another
wave of illegal migrants entering the United States.
Between October 2013 and the end of July of this year, nearly 63,000
unaccompanied children have flooded across the southwestern U.S.
border. Many are from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.
Concerned that smugglers are encouraging the influx by spreading
rumors that the children will be allowed to stay in the United
States, the Obama administration has toughened its public messaging,
warning that newly arriving youngsters will be quickly sent home.
Obama is widely seen as acting, at least in part, because of
intensifying election-year pressure from Republicans, who say he has
not moved swiftly enough to curb the influx.
The Justice Department is placing child migrants on a faster track
for deportation hearings, and the White House has called for changes
to a 2008 law, intended to combat human trafficking, that bars the
immediate removal of Central American children.
Those policies have angered some of Obama's Democratic allies in the
U.S. Congress and Hispanic groups that represent an important base
of the president's political support.
Democratic Representative Luis Gutierrez, a leading advocate in the
U.S. Congress of immigration reform, has vehemently criticized the
fast-track policy, which includes prioritizing children over adults
at deportation hearings.
"We should not take short-cuts and circumvent due process at this
critical time when children are fleeing violence and asking for our
help," Gutierrez said in a statement emailed to Reuters.
At the same time, Republicans have sharply criticized Obama's
policies, saying his 2012 decision to give temporary deportation
relief to some young people brought to the United States by their
parents had encouraged the border influx.
Emphasizing the compassionate side of the administration's policies,
Vice President Joe Biden last week urged private law firms to offer
the children free legal assistance.
"There's an awful lot of kids who need help. They need
representation," Biden said.
The Reuters/Ipsos poll showed that 48 percent of Democrats believe
the children should be cared for until it is safe for them to return
home, against 30 percent of Republicans and 37 percent of people who
identified themselves as independents.
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The question of where and how to house the children while they await
deportation hearings has stirred strong responses in some
communities where shelters were planned. There were fears the
youngsters could bring crime and disease to neighborhoods and create
an extra burden on public finances.
took place in border cities like Oracle, Arizona while local
government in communities such as such as Murrieta, California, and
League City, Texas, voted to rejected any plan to build shelters.
But the survey showed that the opposition to housing the children is
not as widespread as the anti-immigrant images that dominated the
media in recent weeks may have suggested.
Asked if they supported allowing the unaccompanied minors to be
temporarily relocated to their communities, 41 percent said they
would support such a step, while 48 percent said they opposed it.
"There are these really passionate, smaller pieces of the population
that are really loud about it, but the broader public is much more
ambivalent," Ipsos pollster Chris Jackson said.
Also, while some people may in principle support the idea of housing
children in their communities, the reality of shelters in their
communities can change minds.
Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley initially criticized the Obama
administration's plans to quickly deport the children, but he later
pushed back against a proposal to shelter them at a facility in his
"A lot of Americans are compassionate, but they want other people to
bear the burden of that compassion," said John Pitney, a politics
professor at Claremont McKenna College.
Last week, the U.S. government said it planned to soon close three
interim shelters on military bases that have housed thousands of
unaccompanied children, due in large part to decreasing numbers of
minors making the trip.
The number of children crossing the border in the Rio Grande Valley
of Texas was estimated to have slowed from more than 300
unaccompanied children per day in June to less than 150 in July,
federal officials said.
The Reuters/Ipsos poll of late July to early August interviewed
1,566 Americans online. The precision of the Reuters/Ipsos online
polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the
survey had a credibility interval of plus or minus 2.8 percentage
(Writing by Caren Bohan, additional reporting by Lisa Maria Garza in
Dallas and Roberta Rampton in Washington, Editing by Marilyn
Thompson and Ross Colvin)
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