The Public Supports Immigration Reform

Polls of all adults, registered voters, and likely voters all say the same thing—the public is ready for comprehensive immigration reform.

Immigration is back in the news with Senate committees tussling over proposed legislation and debate expected to start on the floor next week. Implicit in these politically-charged discussions is a key question: is tougher enforcement really all that voters are currently interested in, as many politicians seem to believe, or is there voter support for moving forward on serious immigration reform?

The surprising answer—surprising at least to many conservative politicians and pundits—is that voters consistently express support for comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship. Data from a very recent CNN poll, for example, show that 80 percent of the public favors a program that would allow illegal immigrants who have been living in the U.S. for several years, have jobs, and are willing to pay back taxes, to apply for citizenship.

But perhaps that’s just the public at large—maybe voters feel differently. A Quinnipiac University poll from last November, however, shows that a very strong 69-27 majority of registered voters favor a similar program.

Finally, a bipartisan poll conducted by Lake Research Partners and The Tarrance Group for the National Immigration Forum and the Manhattan Institute gave likely voters—that is, registered voters who are likely to vote in the next election—the following choice:

Some people say that we don’t need to offer illegal immigrants a path to citizenship, that’s amnesty and rewarding them for breaking our laws. By enforcing the law more strictly, it will become so hard to live and work here that they will go back where they came from.

Other people say that enforcement only won’t solve the problem of 12 million people who are already living and working here, they will just stay underground and get paid in cash. To fix the immigration crisis we need to combine enforcement with a path to citizenship for those who are willing to come forward, register, pay taxes, and learn English.

The resulting 65-26 majority of likely voters in favor of a path to citizenship should underscore to politicians that support for immigration reform is alive and well among those voters most likely to come to the polls in 2008. And the following excerpt from the report on the poll cites some additional data that should definitely encourage them to consider the merits of supporting immigration reform:

“The pollsters over-sampled voters in key congressional districts, including the 60 districts that voted for Bush in 2004 but voted for a Democrat in 2006, which many see as the key battlegrounds that will determine the contest for Congress in 2008. The support for [a comprehensive immigration reform] proposal was consistently high and desire for action by Congress consistently intense. Voters in two congressional districts where immigration was a central campaign issue and which were won by freshmen Representatives in 2006, Illinois-06 and Arizona-05, showed solid and similar support for the proposal.”

In short, supporting immigration reform may be both good policy and good politics.

For more information on the Center’s policies on immigration, see:

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Ruy Teixeira

Former Senior Fellow