Should they stay, or should they go? Either way, there will be trouble because the United States is home to about:

10.8 million



The figure, from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), likely overstates how many are still in the United States. The most recent data is from January 2009, but DHS noted then that about one million unauthorized immigrants had left in the past two years due to the economic downturn. 

Nevertheless, a sizable population remains. And Americans are conflicted on how to deal with it. This Gallup polls shows an almost even split between people who place the most emphasis on halting the flow of unauthorized immigration and people who believe it's most important to deal with the immigrants who are already here. 

A 2007 New York Times/CBS News poll illuminates Americans' jumbled beliefs on immigration even more effectively. Sixty-nine percent of respondents favored prosecuting and deporting unauthorized immigrants. But 62 percent of respondents said immigrants who had lived and worked here for at least two years should be given a chance to keep their jobs and eventually gain legal status. This even though the overwhelming majority of unauthorized migrants entered before 2005, according to DHS data.

Any immigration reform will be contentious and politically fraught. And it looks like opinion polls will be no guide. Public opinion is divided and contradictory, even within the confines of a single set of respondents. Read the New York Times/CBS News poll in its entirety for an example.