More than half of Americans -- 53% -- say the need for government action this year to halt the flow of illegal immigrants at the borders is "extremely important," the first time a majority have held this view in the four times Gallup has asked this question since 2006. Another 29% call it "very important" and 12% "moderately important," while 7% say it is "not that important."

The new results from a June 9-12 Gallup poll show an 11-point increase since May 2010 in the percentage rating the issue extremely important. This increase is seen about equally among various gender, race, age, and political party groups, as well as by region of the country.

Concern is slightly higher among men than women, among whites than nonwhites, and among older than among younger Americans. However, the biggest difference is seen by party, with 68% of Republicans rating border control extremely important, compared with 42% of Democrats.

The new poll also finds Americans expressing greater urgency about the need for the government to develop a plan to deal with the many illegal immigrants already living in the United States. Forty-three percent now say taking steps this year to do this is extremely important, up from 36% a year ago.

While Americans' concerns about both aspects of the illegal immigration policy debate have risen, their preference for which should be the priority for government to deal with has not changed appreciably. Fifty-five percent now say that government's main focus should be on halting the flow of illegal immigrants, while 43% say it should be on developing a plan for those already here. Since 2006, Gallup has consistently found half or more of Americans choosing border control as the priority.

Most Still Favor Path to Citizenship

In 2006, former president George W. Bush articulated his support for policies that would allow illegal immigrants already working in this country to apply for citizenship under certain conditions, and 61% of Americans agreed with him at that time. Despite the repeated failure of such bills to make it through Congress, nearly two-thirds of Americans, 64%, continue to support the proposal.

Additionally, 13% would allow illegal immigrants to stay in the U.S. for a limited time in order to work, while 21% favor deportation.

Majorities of Americans across all major subgroups favor creating a path for current illegal immigrants to become citizens, including 56% of Republicans, 62% of independents, and 76% of Democrats. Support is slightly higher in the West (at 70%) than in the South (59%), with support in the East (62%) and Midwest (65%) similar to the national average.

Bottom Line

By 55% to 43%, Americans put greater emphasis on border control than on developing a comprehensive plan for dealing with existing illegal immigrants, an outlook largely unchanged over the past five years. Similarly, 53% now say it is extremely important that government address the border issues this year, compared with 43% rating the need to address the status of current illegal immigrants this highly. Concerns about both issues have increased over the past year.