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.
Jerry Benzie, a 27-year-old Republican from Ebensburg, Pennsylvania, 90 miles east of Pittsburgh, was initially sympathetic to the plight of children seeking shelter in the U.S. from violence at home. But his views changed as he grew convinced Central American governments could do more to slow the tide of northbound immigrants, and thought Mexico wasn't doing enough to prevent them from passing through that country on their way to the U.S.
Benzie said he worries the children will strain public schools and other services.
"How do you differentiate between the children who are truly fleeing violence and dangers and those whose parents may just see an opportunity for them in our country and are pushing them to go?" said Benzie, who works in the information technology industry. "It's going to take a toll on our economy because it's going to lead to higher taxes. Our citizens are going to suffer."
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.
Read more at the Associated Press