Poll: Plurality backs criminal prosecutions for illegal border crossings

More Americans say they favor criminal prosecutions for people who illegally cross the border than punishing them with civil fines, according to a new Hill-HarrisX poll.

The survey, released Monday, found that a plurality of voters, 41 percent, thought those crossing the border illegally should face criminal punishment, while 32 percent said it should just warrant a fine.

Voters were split on the issue along party lines, with a strong majority of Republicans — 67 percent — favoring criminal prosecution for illegal crossings. Just 24 percent of Democrats said the same.

Independents slightly prefer criminal penalties over fines.

Thirty-six of those said an illegal entry should be treated as a crime, compared to 33 percent who think it should be treated as a misdemeanor, with just a fine as punishment.

The results were based on interviews with 1,001 registered voters conducted between July 5 and 6. There is a margin of effort or plus of 3.1 percentage points.

The question of whether those crossing the border illegally should be punished as criminals has come up in the presidential race. 

In the second night of the Democratic debate, nine of the 10 Democrats on stage raised their hands to indicate they did not think those crossing the border illegally should face a criminal punishment. 

Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetPress: Another billionaire need not apply Democrats debate how to defeat Trump: fight or heal Overnight Energy: EPA watchdog slams agency chief after deputy fails to cooperate in probe | Justices wrestle with reach of Clean Water Act | Bipartisan Senate climate caucus grows MORE (D-Colo.) was the only one not to raise his hand in response to about decriminalizing border crossings. Former Rep. John DelaneyJohn Kevin DelaneyBloomberg run should push Warren to the center — but won't The Hill's 12:30 Report: Impeachment fight enters new stage Biden hits Warren over 'Medicare for All' plan MORE (D-Md.) has also come out against decriminalizing border crossings.

In an interview with Hill.TV, Delaney said that he doesn’t think it’s the best approach amid an influx of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border and instead called on Congress to deal with the aftermath of President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive landmark moments of testimony to Congress Lindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight Democrats sharpen their message on impeachment MORE’s zero tolerance immigration policy that separated hundreds of migrant families.

“I just don’t think at this moment in time when we have a huge kind of surge at our border sending a message that we’re going to decriminalize crossings is the right thing to do,” he told Hill.TV. “Let’s pass a law saying children cannot be separated from their parents, which is the law I’m in favor of.”

The treatment of people detained at the border for crossing illegally to obtain asylum in the United States has also become a major political issue. An internal government report released last week described squalid and over-crowded conditions at facilities holding people who crossed the border.

—Tess Bonn