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WASHINGTON (RNS) A new survey detected broad support among religious groups for comprehensive immigration reform, rebutting a December survey showing most religious communities want to send illegal immigrants home.
According to the new study, released Tuesday (March 23) by the Public Religion Research Institute, 86 percent of U.S. voters support a provision for an earned pathway to citizenship in which undocumented immigrants would need to pay taxes, work, register with the government and learn English before they can apply for citizenship.
The Rev. Tom Reese, a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Woodstock Theological Center, said he was encouraged by the findings.
“People are clearly aware that our immigration system is broken,” Reese said. “People want a system that not only is good for our national security and our economy but also one that protects the dignity of every human person and keeps families together.”
The new study showed 92 percent of Catholics, 90 percent of white evangelicals and 87 percent of white mainline Protestants favor an earned pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
A Zogby poll released last December by the more conservative Center for Immigration Studies, however, showed that 64 percent of Catholics and mainline Protestants, along with 76 percent of “born-again” Protestants, support enforcement to encourage illegal immigrants to go home.
Researchers on the new survey said their results in favor of reform were consistent, even when the wording of the question was changed to ask if the United States should deport illegal immigrants. A slight majority, 56 percent, disagreed; Catholics (61 percent) were more likely to disagree than white mainline Protestants (54 percent) and white evangelicals (47 percent).
Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute, said his poll was more accurate because it was based on random telephone calls, while the Zogby poll relied on an online internet panel.
Katie Paris, communications director for the left-leaning group Faith in Public Life, said the new poll chips away at the notion that clergy support immigration reform while their congregants do not.
“The idea promulgated by opponents of comprehensive immigration reform that faith leaders are somehow way out ahead of people of faith on immigration reform is a myth,” she said.
The poll was based on a nationwide telephone survey of 1,201 registered voters; it had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Kimberlee Hauss
Copyright 2010 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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