Despite the two major political parties’ war over the rights and treatment of migrants, a large majority of Americans say they want safe and sanitary conditions for asylum-seekers at the southern border.
Most also support increasing the number of judges handling asylum cases to try to cull a severe backlog.
Those findings are part of a new national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted among 4,175 adults from July 22 through Aug. 4.
In the poll, 65% of Americans said the federal government is doing a somewhat bad or very bad job of handling the increase in asylum-seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border. Only 33% said the government was doing a good job.
Nearly 950,000 immigration cases of all types are pending before the courts, according to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University. In fiscal year 2017, the most recent data available, according to the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, the United States granted asylum to 26,568 people.
Asylum is a legal means of staying and working in the U.S., available to those who the government determines have been targeted in their homeland because of their religion, politics, race, nationality, or membership in a particular social group.
Many migrants fear they’ll be killed if they return to their home country, and see staying in America as the only way of staying alive.
President Donald Trump has called the asylum system “a scam” and “a hoax,” and tried to block asylum-seekers in multiple ways — meeting stiff resistance from immigration advocates and the courts.
This month, a federal judge ruled that the government could not reject asylum claims from undocumented migrants who entered the U.S. between legal ports of entry. Last month, a different judge temporarily blocked an administration ban on asylum-seekers who pass through another country on their trek to the U.S.-Mexico border.
The administration’s controversial “Migrant Protection Protocols” have forced migrants who claim asylum at border ports of entry to wait in Mexico while their court cases go forward, a process that can take months or even years.
Rather than making it harder or easier for asylum-seekers to gain legal status, the Pew survey found, the priority for Americans was improving conditions and culling the backlog. Overall, 86% said it was very or somewhat important to increase the number of judges, and 82% said it was important to provide safe and sanitary conditions for asylum-seekers.
Government inspectors have cited dangerous overcrowding at border holding areas, and U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said she was “deeply shocked that children are forced to sleep on the floor in overcrowded facilities, without access to adequate healthcare or food, and with poor sanitation conditions.”
In the Pew poll, 74% said it was at least somewhat important to reduce the number of people coming to the U.S. to seek asylum. Toward that goal, 69% said it was important to provide more assistance to countries in places like Central America, where many asylum-seekers flee violence and poverty.
Views on whether it should be easier or harder for migrants to be granted asylum were deeply divided along party lines. Seventy-seven percent of Republicans said it was important to make it more difficult, and 79% of Democrats said the process should be made easier.
The survey had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 1.9 percentage points.