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Undocumented mom prepares for her ICE check-in
00:39 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

All told, 60% say the government's top priority should be a plan to legalize undocumented immigrants

Nine in 10 support a bill to allow certain undocumented immigrants to become citizens

Washington CNN  — 

Americans disagree with President Donald Trump’s immigration priorities, according to a new CNN/ORC poll, with nearly two-thirds of Americans saying they’d like to see a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants rather than deportations.

Trump has made tough border security and strict enforcement of US immigration laws a focal point of his campaign and presidency – using some of his first executive orders to pave the way for far more deportations and detentions as well as ordering the construction of a Southern border wall.

But a CNN/ORC poll released Friday finds that the public is actually moving in the opposite direction since Trump has won election.

Read the poll results

Americans are more likely to say that the nation’s top immigration priority should be to allow those in the US illegally to gain legal status – and six in 10 say they are more concerned that deportation efforts will be overzealous than they are that dangerous criminals will be overlooked.

All told, 60% say the government’s top priority in dealing with illegal immigration should be developing a plan to allow those in the US illegally who have jobs to become legal residents.

In contrast, 26% say developing a plan to stop illegal border crossings should be the top priority and 13% say deportation of those in the US illegally should be the first priority.

The number who prioritize legal status for those working in the US illegally is up from 51% who said so last fall. That shift comes across party lines, with Democrats and independents each 10 points more likely and Republicans 8 points more likely to choose a plan for legal status now compared with last fall.

While Trump campaigned heavily against “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants, he has avoided rescinding an Obama administration program offering protections and work permits to those who were brought to the US as children, and in a recent meeting with reporters a senior administration official indicated Trump could be open to a compromise that included a path to legalization, if not citizenship, if it came to his desk.

Trump told Congress in his joint address last month that he supported the idea of an immigration reform compromise, but offered few details.

Offering citizenship to those immigrants who are living in the US illegally but hold a job, speak English and are willing to pay back taxes is immensely popular, with 90% behind such a plan. That’s consistent across party lines, with 96% of Democrats, 89% of independents and 87% of Republicans behind it.

The President has described his immigration policies as focused on removing criminals, though critics of his administration say enforcement agencies’ definition of criminal is too expansive and sweeps up people who only broke immigration laws.

He has also ordered the creation of offices and reports focused on publicizing victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants.

Americans say, however, they are more concerned about the effects of deportations than they are about immigrant crimes.

Overall, 58% say they’re more concerned that deportation efforts will go too far and result in deportation of people who haven’t committed serious crimes, while 40% say they’re more concerned that those efforts will not go far enough and dangerous criminals will remain in the US. That number is largely driven by Democrats – more than two-thirds of Republicans say they are concerned efforts won’t go far enough.

As for deportation priorities, seven in 10 say the government should not attempt to deport all immigrants living in the country illegally, up from 66% in the fall.

A wide majority, nearly eight in 10, support deporting undocumented immigrants who have committed other crimes, however, an area Trump says is his focus. There has been a small uptick, nevertheless, in the share who say the government shouldn’t be deporting those living in the US illegally who have been convicted of other crimes, from 15% to 19%.

Opinions vary by party on both of these questions, though majorities across party lines are on the same side of both arguments. Among Republicans, 55% oppose attempts to deport all people living in the US illegally, below the 86% of Democrats and 71% of independents who feel that way. Considering deportation of those in the country illegally who have been convicted of other crimes, 64% of Democrats favor that, below the 79% of independents and 93% of Republicans who say the same.

CNN/ORC interviewed 1,025 American adults by phone from March 1 to 4 for the poll, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. Results by party have a margin of error of plus or minus 6 points.