July 30, 2014
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.
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.
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.
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.