SAN DIEGO (AP) — 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.
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.
Jerry Benzie, a 27-year-old Republican from Ebensburg, Pennsylvania, 90 miles east of Pittsburgh, was initially sympathetic to the plight of children seeking shelter in the U.S. from violence at home. But his views changed as he grew convinced Central American governments could do more to slow the tide of northbound immigrants, and thought Mexico wasn’t doing enough to prevent them from passing through that country on their way to the U.S.
Benzie said he worries the children will strain public schools and other services.
“How do you differentiate between the children who are truly fleeing violence and dangers and those whose parents may just see an opportunity for them in our country and are pushing them to go?” said Benzie, who works in the information technology industry. “It’s going to take a toll on our economy because it’s going to lead to higher taxes. Our citizens are going to suffer.”
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.
Survey results on questions about how to handle children arriving without a parent are dependent on question wording and context. A Public Religion Research Institute survey found 69 percent favored treating the children as refugees rather than deporting them “if authorities determine it is not safe for them to return to their home country.” The AP-GfK question finding most opposed to refugee status asked about those who say they are fleeing violence. And a CNN/ORC survey asking whether most of the children are “refugees who are fleeing violence and poverty” or “illegal immigrants whose parents are trying to exploit a loophole in the U.S. immigration system” found a result between the other two polls, with 51 percent saying refugees and 45 percent immigrants.
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.
Paula Stapleton, who is raising boys, ages 9 and 3, in Clinton, Arkansas, supports asylum or refugee status for children, but not for their parents or adults who come alone. She worries that children who are turned back to their home countries will end up in gangs, making the problem worse.
“The United States is a big enough country to take in children and give them a chance,” said Stapleton, 33, a political independent. “It can’t take everybody, but we can take their children.”
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.
Mercedes Brand, a naturalized U.S. citizen in suburban New Jersey who emigrated from Peru 45 years ago, is in the minority among Hispanics. The youngest of her four U.S.-born children is saddled with college debt and she worries that the United States can’t take care of its own, let alone newcomers.
“This country is built with immigrants, but those immigrants who came from Europe and all over the world didn’t demand all the things that they are demanding now,” said Brand, a 60-year-old Democrat who works as a Spanish interpreter for a health care provider. “When my grandchildren are old enough to collect Social Security, there may not be enough money. There may not be enough for me.”
The AP-GfK Poll was conducted July 24-28 using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based online panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,044 adults, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for all respondents. The margin of sampling error is larger for subgroups.
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.
Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
- The best places to celebrate Fall in Phoenix
- Infamous athletes who did the most time for their crimes
- 2016 baseball highlights, bloopers and blunders
- See how CFOs really feel about business in the Valley
- The best television shows on the internet
- A preseason guide to avoid holiday weight gain
- The 5 worst things you could do for your roof
- 6 coolest things brewing in Arizona
- The virus that keeps head and neck cancers on the rise
- State Fair ‘Kid Reporter’ has all the angles covered
- 4 important things to know about timeshare maintenance fees
- Signs of delayed car crash injuries
- The truth about sports concussions
- The Alzheimer's epidemic: Facts you need to know
- The season is here, keep your Fantasy Football team strong all season
- 8 TV shows you can't miss this fall
- Football is here: 6 tips to make this your best season ever
- Gameday recipes and beers to match
- 6 reasons the Cardinals are driven to win the Super Bowl
- The Pac-12 football season nears kickoff
- Tips to get ready for a pain-free golf season
- Protect your family with these 7 home security features
- How to train like an Olympic swimmer
- 2016 Olympics: A guide to must-see TV events
- The bride's guide to feeling your best on your wedding day
- Deciding when you need knee surgery
- Celebrating Fourth of July is much cooler in these AZ towns
- Top ten road trip bathrooms in America
- Six things causing a pain in your neck
- 5 things to make your summer move easier