Poll: 69% of Americans think the border kids should stay if it's not safe for them to return home

In case you’ve been wondering why Democrats have been pounding the idea so hard that this is a “refugee” crisis at the border, not an “illegal immigration” crisis, here’s what happens when people are asked which statement comes closest to their view:


In fact, under current U.S. law, the kids don’t qualify as “refugees.” That’s one of the sticking points in the White House’s proposal to send envoys to Honduras and start processing asylum applications there: How can we grant “refugee” status to someone who’s fleeing street gangs, not racial/religious/political persecution? If this result is accurate, the public doesn’t much care. Danger, at least with respect to kids, may be sufficient to move someone from the “illegal” column to the “refugee” category. What the limiting principle on that is for future waves of illegal border crossings, I have no idea.

How much should we trust this data, though? Here’s another result from the same poll that suggests people are … “conflicted,” I guess, is a nice way to put it.


Sixty-nine percent think the kids should stay if it’s not safe for them to go home and 71 percent completely or mostly agree that we should shelter anyone who’s facing danger in their native country, but 59 percent think we shouldn’t let the kids stay lest it encourage further illegal immigration. Okay then. Also, my pal Karl notes on Twitter that other polls seem to contradict the “let them stay” result here. From Pew:


The difference there could be a product of how the question is phrased: There’s no mention of “refugees” or, more importantly, the physical danger kids might face if sent home, but the reference to asylum at least suggests it. Or maybe it doesn’t contradict the result above as much as we might think. People are willing to see some refugees deported in the name of expediting the kids’ cases, but maybe they’d still support asylum for most, especially if you stressed that it’s not safe in Central America.

Karl also points to this CNN result:


CNN got that result even though, when asked whether most of the kids are refugees or illegal immigrants, 51 percent said the former comes closer to their view versus 45 percent who said the latter. That same poll also found a general trend towards security: Whereas in the past most Americans thought legalizing illegals should be the main focus should be on legalizing illegals who are already here, 51 percent now say security should be the focus.

Any theories on how all of this squares? I’m always open to “one poll’s an outlier” but my hunch is that it’s case of public opinion responding to the right terminology. The more sympathetic you make the situation — the kids are “refugees,” they’re uniformly young waifs, they’re leaving because of violence — the better the numbers will be. The truth, that many kids are teenagers or are traveling with moms who say they’re fleeing poverty, not violence, doesn’t play as well.