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Tough but Fair on Immigration

Opinion polls show that Americans overwhelmingly support allowing undocumented immigrants to stay in the U.S. and earn citizenship.

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President Bush has put immigration reform back on the table, which will no doubt unleash a torrent of abuse from those who believe the only appropriate response to the immigration issue is taller fences and tougher enforcement.

Lost in this brouhaha will be a simple fact: while the public is certainly supportive of stronger immigration enforcement, it is also very supportive of reforming the immigration system to deal with undocumented immigrants who are already here, including providing a path to citizenship.

These sentiments were captured in an early March Gallup poll, which asked: “Which comes closest to your view about what government policy should be toward illegal immigrants currently residing in the United States? Should the government deport all illegal immigrants back to their home country, allow illegal immigrants to remain in the United States in order to work but only for a limited amount of time, or allow illegal immigrants to remain in the United States and become U.S. citizens but only if they meet certain requirements over a period of time?”

Fifty-nine percent think illegal immigrants should be allowed to remain in the U.S. and possibly become citizens if they meet “certain requirements,” while 15 percent favor allowing illegal immigrants to remain in the U.S. for a limited time, and 24 percent believe all illegal immigrants should be deported.

A January 2007 Pew Research Center poll similarly found that 59 percent favor a proposal that “would allow undocumented immigrants who have been in the U.S. for several years to gain legal working status and the possibility of citizenship in the future,” compared to 39 percent who opposed such a proposal. This sentiment crosses party lines. It is supported not only by Democrats (66 percent to 31 percent) and independents (60 percent to 35 percent), but also by Republicans (50 percent to 46 percent).

A November 2006 Quinnipiac University poll also found that 69 percent favor a guest worker program that would offer illegal immigrants “the ability to work toward citizenship over a period of several years,” compared to just 27 percent who oppose such a program.

It appears that, despite the loud complaints of nativist political currents, immigration reform is an idea that is here to stay.

For more information about public immigration, see:

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Ruy Teixeira

Former Senior Fellow

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