The overwhelming majority of Americans think the country’s immigration policies need to be drastically changed with a much bigger emphasis on enforcement.

The New York Times/CBS poll shows 78 per cent want better border enforcement.

Three quarters said that, over all, illegal immigrants are a drain on the American economy because they don't pay taxes and use hospitals and schools. Only 20 per cent said the immigrants strengthened the economy by providing low-cost labor.

A majority of Americans support Arizona's new law even though they admit it may lead to racial profiling. In all fifty one per cent agree with the new Arizona law.

However, a majority of the Americans polled, 57 per cent say the federal government should write immigration law, not the states.

“The Arizona law is fine, but the federal government has to step in and come up with something — and they’re not doing it,” Pat Turkos, 64, a library worker and Republican from Baltimore told The New York Times.

She said: “I don’t think they should be stopped just walking down the street, only if they’re stopped for speeding, for example. I believe everybody has the right to come here, but I think they have to be made legal citizens.”

There is sharp geographic divide over immigration with East Coast and West Coast far more liberal and Midwest and South conservative .

Democrats are far more likely than Republicans or independents to support a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants now in the country.