Poll: Americans cool to border-crossing children
Wednesday, July 30, 2014 11:00 AM
Americans are wary of granting refugee status to children crossing the U.S. border to flee strife-torn countries in Central America, and most in an Associated Press-GfK poll say the U.S. does not have a moral obligation to accept asylum seekers generally.
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The new poll found 53 percent of Americans believe the United States has no moral obligation to offer asylum to people who escape violence or political persecution, while 44 percent believe it has that responsibility.
And more than half, 52 percent, say children who say they are fleeing gang violence in Central America should not be treated as refugees, while 46 percent say they should.
The responses expose a partisan rift, with 70 percent of Republicans saying Central American children should not be treated as refugees compared with 62 percent of Democrats who believe they should. On whether the United States has an obligation to accept people fleeing violence or political persecution, 66 percent of Republicans say it does not and 57 percent of Democrats say it does.
To qualify for asylum, applicants must prove they suffered persecution or have a well-founded fear of persecution on grounds of race, religion, nationality, membership in a social group or political opinion. A refugee must demonstrate the same but, unlike an asylum seeker, seeks protection while still outside the United States.
Americans who are closely following news about the wave of unaccompanied children crossing the border illegally in South Texas are less receptive, with only four in ten saying they should qualify as refugees. Among those who say they aren't paying as much attention, roughly half believe they should be treated as refugees.
White House officials said last week they were considering a pilot program to grant refugee status to young people from Honduras. They suggested the plan, which could be expanded to Guatemala and El Salvador, involves screening youths in their home countries.
President Barack Obama played down the idea after meeting in Washington last week with his Central American counterparts, saying it would affect only a small number of people.
The poll was taken as Congress neared its August recess amid wide disagreement over how to address what Obama has called a humanitarian crisis. The Border Patrol detained more than 57,000 unaccompanied children from October through June, the vast majority from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
Americans with children under 18 are evenly split on whether the children crossing the border should be treated as refugees, with 49 percent taking each side. Those without young children tilt against refugee status, 53 percent to 45 percent.
Among Hispanics, 66 percent say children crossing the border who claim they are fleeing gang violence should be treated as refugees. Slightly fewer, 54 percent, said they see a moral obligation to accept people fleeing violence or persecution.
Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and were later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn't otherwise have access to the Internet were provided with the ability to access the Internet at no cost to them.
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