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 BennetKamala Harris makes history — as a Westerner Expanding our health force can save lives and create jobs simultaneously How Congress is preventing a Medicare bankruptcy during COVID-19 MORE (D-Colo.) was the only one not to raise his hand in response to about decriminalizing border crossings. Former Rep. John DelaneyJohn DelaneyCoronavirus Report: The Hill's Steve Clemons interviews Rep. Rodney Davis Eurasia Group founder Ian Bremmer says Trump right on China but wrong on WHO; CDC issues new guidance for large gatherings The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas says country needs to rethink what 'policing' means; US cases surpass 2 million with no end to pandemic in sight 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 TrumpDemocrat calls on White House to withdraw ambassador to Belarus nominee TikTok collected data from mobile devices to track Android users: report Peterson wins Minnesota House primary in crucial swing district 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