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December 20, 2013

Survey finds immigrants favor relief from deportation over path to citizenship

Study finds path to citizenship not as critical as being able to live and work legally in US

LAWRENCE — Illegal immigrants regard relief from being deported as more important than winning a path to citizenship, a recent survey by the Pew Research Center shows.

Strong majorities of both Hispanics and Asian-Americans continue to back a pathway to citizenship, 89 percent and 72 percent, respectively, according to Pew. Still, by 55 percent to 35 percent, Hispanics said being able to live and work in the United States legally without the threat of deportation was more important. Among Asian-Americans, the ratio was 49 percent to 44 percent.

Avoiding deportation is “the main concern,” said attorney Zoila Gomez of Lawrence, who specializes in immigration law.

“You want to be able to work in the United States,” she explained.

Fending off “the immediate threat of removal from the United States” is of much greater concern to someone who is in the country illegally than a path to citizenship, said attorney Sal Tabit of Methuen, who also represents clients facing immigration problems.

“What can I do to legally document myself?” is a question frequently asked by illegal immigrants, he said.

Not all Latino immigrants seek to become American citizens, according to the Pew study.

Of Hispanic immigrants who came to the United States legally, just 44 percent have become citizens, due in part to the cost of applying as well as worries about passing the English part of the citizenship test. Among immigrants from Mexico, the largest country of origin, the share is even lower, at 36 percent.

“There’s no question that these groups want a pathway to citizenship for the unauthorized, but the surveys also show that, especially for Latinos, it’s the threat of deportation that casts the longest shadow on their communities,” said Mark Hugo Lopez, Pew’s director of Hispanic research and author of the report.

Earlier this year, the Senate passed far-reaching immigration legislation that would strengthen border enforcement and allow a 13-year pathway to citizenship. But activity has stalled in the GOP-controlled House, with the citizenship provision a major sticking point.

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