By huge margins, California voters favor the United States offering "shelter and support" to thousands of unaccompanied Central American children entering the country illegally, rather than promptly deporting them, according to a Field Poll released Wednesday.
The survey also found that voters in the Golden State would -- also by wide margins -- approve of President Barack Obama using his executive powers to set a national policy toward dealing with the children if Congress fails to act.
"I feel relieved, grateful to be in a state that recognizes the rights of children regardless of where they are from," said Sebastian Zavala, chief program officer for Catholic Charities of the East Bay. "This poll is a good indicator that people are looking out for one another, looking to reach others in need, as members of the human family."
The Federation for American Immigration Reform, however, mocked the poll as a classic "forced choice" by pitting a "dire option" against a "soft, cuddly" one -- temporary help for the children versus instant deportation.
"The immigration issue is often posited between one of two spectra -- either kicking in doors in the middle of the night and massive roundups, separating women from children, or amnesty," said Bob Dane of FAIR, which is trying to bring down levels of both legal and illegal immigration.
In August, Gov. Jerry Brown and top Democrats in the Legislature agreed to spend $3 million to help unaccompanied minors by providing legal assistance.
California has seen the arrival of more than 4,000 children, mostly from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. The youngsters are among 63,000 young migrants who have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border since last October. They say they are trying to escape poverty, drug cartels, political upheaval and high crime rates.
Over the summer, Obama announced that if Congress continued to do nothing on the issue he would use his executive powers to help the children. But over the weekend it became clear that the president still isn't ready to take executive action on the status of either the unaccompanied minors or 11 million other illegal immigrants.
The Field Poll surveyed 1,280 registered California voters in six languages from Aug. 14 to Aug. 28. The poll's margin of error is plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.
The survey found that 58 percent of California voters say the U.S. should offer assistance to the thousands of children "while it determines their long-term status." Thirty-three percent want the children to be deported immediately. Another 9 percent have no opinion.
As is usually the case on immigration issues, the responses broke down along party lines.
Asked what the U.S. policy should be toward the children, 72 percent of Democrats supported "shelter and support" while their long-term status was worked out. Fifty-four percent of Republicans wanted the children immediately deported. Sixty-percent of voters without a party preference supported helping the children.
On the question of whether Obama should use his executive powers to formalize policies for dealing with the unaccompanied children, 74 percent of Democrats supported the use of executive power, while 65 percent of Republicans opposed it. Fifty-four percent of voters who expressed no party preference favored Obama taking the executive action.
Sixty-six percent of Latinos and 64 percent of African-Americans were in favor of such action. But only a slight majority (51 percent) of whites and 44 percent of Asian-Americans were in favor of it.
The poll also asked voters whether the U.S. should renew the Obama administration's policy of no longer deporting immigrants whose parents brought them here illegally when they were children. Those immigrants often refer to themselves as "Dreamers" -- a name that comes from the proposed-but-never-enacted U.S. Dream Act, designed to allow the young immigrants to stay in this country.
The number of Californians in favor (59 percent) of renewing the Obama administration's 2012 policy is more than double (29 percent) of those against renewing it.
Democrats (78 percent) support helping the Dreamers, while Republicans (53 percent) oppose the idea.
"The Dreamers should be stopped immediately," said Michael Hieb, of Livermore. "Their (parents) are lawbreakers. I have to follow the rules. They should have to follow them too. Sorry, but the children have to pay for the sins of their fathers."
Dane of FAIR agreed: "If Americans feel they have the moral obligation to fund this generation of illegal immigrants, won't we have the same obligation for the future ones that come? And they will come."
On the question of whether the president should use his executive powers to stop the deportation of most illegal immigrants, 46 percent favored the move, while 36 percent opposed it.
Sixty percent of Democrats supported that broad use of presidential powers, while 65 percent of Republicans opposed it.
"I recently saw a T-shirt that perfectly sums up my feeling on all of this going on between the Republicans and the Democrats," said Joy Rabin, of Sunnyvale. "It read, 'We the people ... are pissed.' We need a policy on this issue, but until something is actually done, I'm like most Americans -- kind of pissed at everybody."
Contact David E. Early at 408-920-5836.