An overwhelming majority of Hispanics support giving undocumented immigrants a path to legal immigration status, according to a new Fox News Latino poll.
In a May survey of 886 registered Latino voters nationwide, 90 percent – which many political and immigration experts said is the highest level of support they recall having seen – said they favor giving undocumented immigrants an opportunity to become legal permanent residents of the United States.
Only 6 percent said they would rather see as many as possible deported, and 4 percent chose “don’t know.”
Political and immigration experts theorized that the harsh rhetoric by the likely Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump, about Mexico and undocumented immigrants, as well as his hardline proposals calling for a deportation army that would expel everyone in the country illegally, has intensified sympathy among Latinos for people who are living here without documentation.
In other polls, many Latinos have said they know someone who is undocumented, and that even if they are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents, they feel offended and attacked by statements and actions that seem fueled by bias.
“I’ve never seen that high a consensus before” among Latinos on illegal immigration, said Brent Wilkes, the national executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC. “That’s something that is really amazing.”
He added, “It’s really pushing back against the rhetoric. It shows remarkable agreement in the Latino community that the solution is not deporting millions of people, the solution is not building a wall.”
The poll also showed that immigration has risen in importance as an issue to Latino voters this presidential cycle, although it still ranks behind jobs, education and national security.
Asked which issue will be the top priority in their choice for president, the economy and jobs ranked first, with 34 percent picking it. Education followed, with 15 percent. Then came national security and the military with 13 percent, followed closely by immigration, which got 12 percent.
But a look at the trend shows Hispanics care more about immigration than they did four years ago.
The number of Latinos who say they care about the economy most has gone down since 2012, from 47 to 34. Similarly the number of Latinos who say that immigration is the most important issue has doubled since 2012, from 6 percent four years ago to 12 percent today.
In a Fox News Latino poll of Hispanic voters in the 2012 election, immigration was beat out as a priority issue by the economy, healthcare, education and social issues such as abortion and gay marriage.
“It’s not surprising,” Wilkes said. “Immigrant Latinos and non-immigrant Latinos are now focusing more on immigration. The unemployment rate has come down quite a bit, and other issues [such as health care] have started to be addressed, so those bedrock issues are moving in the right direction [for Latinos] – except for immigration.”
“It’s not just about immigration” for Latinos, Wilkes said. “It’s about bigotry and racism and the message that Latinos don’t belong here.”
Which, he added, doesn't bode well for Trump in the general election.
Daniel Garza, executive director of Libre Initiative, an increasingly influential conservative grassroots organization, said that Latinos are feeling uneasiness over how immigration is being addressed in this presidential election by both Trump and his likely Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.
“One the one hand, you have a candidate who is taking a harsh position on immigration,” said Garza, whose group is partly funded by the billionaire Koch brothers. “On the other hand, you have a candidate who has deliberately overpromised.”
Either of those all-or-nothing approaches could prevent a more comprehensive immigration solution, Garza said.
“That’s just what happened to Barack Obama,” he said. “Consensus is the operative word, we need someone who will negotiate in good faith.”
Reforming immigration, Garza noted, would lead to improvement in the Latino community’s other priority areas such as education, jobs, the economy and national security.
The Fox News Poll was conducted under the joint direction of Anderson Robbins Research (D) and Shaw & Company Research (R).
The poll was conducted by telephone with live interviewers May 14-17, 2016, among a random sample of 886 Latino registered voters as an oversample to a national survey of 1,021 registered voters.
This Latino sample is made up of 76 interviews conducted as part of the base national sample and 810 additional interviews from a Latino voter list developed from previously conducted national random digit dial surveys.
Elizabeth Llorente is Senior Reporter for FoxNews.com, and can be reached at Elizabeth.Llorente@Foxnews.com. Follow her on Twitter @Liz_Llorente.