On Immigration, the Answer Is Tough But Fair

What does the public really want on immigration? This is currently the subject of intense debate as Congress considers various proposals to toughen enforcement and reform our immigration system in the run-up to national elections this fall. It is also the subject of the first in a monthly series of poll analyses that the Center for American Progress and The Century Foundation will conduct on topics that are sure to define the political debate in America.

We chose immigration because, at first glance, it seems to be so politically polarizing. Fortunately, polling organizations have dramatically stepped up their level of polling on the issue, turning a once modest store of relevant public data into a cornucopia of information on virtually every aspect of the immigration debate. Much of the new poll findings seem confusing, even contradictory, yet serious analysis of the data bring the public’s views on immigration into sharp focus.

Our analysis shows that the public favors a tough, but not punitive, approach to immigration enforcement, combined with fairly generous views on immigration reform to deal with the undocumented immigrants who are already here, including a path toward citizenship. But public support for reform includes a series of requirements and conditions that Americans feel immigrants must meet to stay in the country and, eventually, become citizens.

Alas, the remarkably nuanced views of the American public on immigration reform are often cherry picked by all the parties to the current debate to publicize the public’s “true” viewpoints on immigration. Our analysis will help separate fact from fiction.

To read the full analysis of the polls, read the report:

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Ruy Teixeira

Former Senior Fellow