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Americans now find developing a plan to deal with the nation’s undocumented immigrant population to be equally important as securing U.S. borders, according to a Gallup poll released Monday.

The poll finds that 44 percent of Americans say it’s extremely important for the United States to develop a plan to deal with undocumented immigrants who already live in the country, while 43 percent say it’s extremely important to secure the nation’s borders. This represents a significant shift from earlier in the decade, when Americans were more likely to emphasize border security. During the debate over the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007, for example, almost 10 percent more Americans were concerned with securing the border than with dealing with the immigrants who are already in the country.

Gallup chart 1

Furthermore, when asked to pick which should be the main focus of immigration reform efforts, Americans choose dealing with the immigrants already in the country over securing the borders by a 51 to 46 percent margin.

Over the past three years, Americans of all political inclinations have become less focused on border security — but the most significant shift has taken place among Republicans:

Gallup chart 2

The national shift in thinking is in line with the situation on the ground at the U.S.-Mexico border, which has become more secure than ever before during the Obama administration.

It also raises questions about the Republican Party’s long-standing refusal to pursue comprehensive immigration reform unless stricter border security measures are in place. Gallup’s poll is one of many to demonstrate that the GOP’s position is outside of the mainstream.

That said, there is a logic to Republican leaders repeatedly killing reform efforts. Although the general public supports comprehensive immigration reform, such policies are anathema to the evangelical and Tea Party Republicans on whom the party will rely in the 2014 midterms.

The Gallup poll surveyed 1,023 adults by telephone from February 6-9, and has a +/- 4 percent margin of error.

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