Last week Immigration Works USA released a poll that highlighted the major problem in the immigration discourse: the conflation of legal with illegal immigration. Despite the three-fourths of immigrants who are here legally, the conversation centers on the one-fourth who are here illegally.

The poll found that once the discussion pivots towards legal immigration, Americans have a strongly positive view and support an enlarged visa program for immigrants doing “physically demanding work.”

The poll found that participants automatically assumed that a conversation about immigration is about illegal immigration. The Immigration Works USA report states, “We repeatedly needed to remind participants who we were talking about and redirect the discussion back to legal immigration.”

One participant, a college-educated Republican stated, “When you look around the country, when you bring up immigration, no matter if we want to or not, we think of illegal immigration.”

This might seem like a minor rhetorical difference. But the impact is noteworthy. Illegal immigration incites negative responses, but legal immigration is met with positive attitudes. So if people overwhelmingly think of immigration as illegal when the issue is raised, their attitudes are soured.

It found that nearly 80 percent of Americans hold a favorable view of legal immigration. Nearly 60 percent believe the United States needs more legal immigrants with low skills, with 70 percent supporting a visa program for them. Moreover, 86 percent believe legal immigrants make an important contribution to the U.S. economy.

This poll coincides with a recent Niskanen Center study that examined public-opinion polls of the past few decades. The facts are clear: the American people overwhelmingly support legal immigration.

The poll unsurprisingly found that the American people do not understand the lack of legal opportunities for immigrants, especially the low-skilled. Many respondents were surprised to learn that a year-round work visa for low-skilled immigrants simply does not exist.

David Bier, my colleague at the Niskanen Center, argues that legal immigration is not a partisan issue. His study finds nearly the same level of support on each side of the aisle. Legal immigration transcends the standard right-left political divide.

Furthermore, when respondents were asked to name the first thing that came to mind when they thought of legal immigrant workers, six out of the eight most popular responses were positive. They thought, for example, of the American dream or that immigrants were hard workers.

Over a third had a very favorable view of legal immigration, and just one in ten saw illegal immigrants contributing nothing to the U.S. economy.

A common critique of immigrants is that they “take” American job, a claim disproved many times. Respondents were more than twice as likely to think that legal immigrants take jobs that Americans don’t want rather than taking jobs from Americans.

Tamar Jacoby, Immigration Work USA president, said the less-educated focus-group members actually better understood the need for more immigrant workers than their better-educated counterparts.

Many immigration advocates argue that expanded legal immigration means less illegal immigration. The respondents agreed. Fifty percent said that a visa program for low-skilled immigrants would lower illegal immigration.

The findings bode ill for some radical presidential hopefuls that propose reducing legal immigration. This radical proposal is unpopular with the American people.

Merely adding the word worker to immigrant increases support from the American people. Despite potential wording problems, Americans still increasingly support legal immigration. The poll reveals that proper framing of questions and an adequate level of information will produce different results, with even more support for immigrants.

A better informed immigration debate in Congress would focus on legal immigrants. Lawmakers should recognize the bias in focusing on illegal immigration, which is merely a symptom of limited legal immigration.

The American people clearly support legal immigration. It’s time to expand legal channels for more hardworking immigrants.