There’s no doubt the politics of immigration reform are very complicated and that getting a bill through Congress will not be easy. But it’s important to be clear that the public is quite supportive of immigration reform, especially reform that is comprehensive and does not simply focus on punitive measures. This has been true of the public for some time and a new Benenson Strategy Group poll for America’s Voice demonstrates that it is still true today.
In the new poll, voters were asked about several aspects of comprehensive immigration reform. Perhaps not surprisingly, 89 percent supported increasing security on the U.S.-Mexico border and an identical number supported cracking down on employers who hire illegal immigrants. But nearly as many—87 percent—also supported a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, provided they registered with the government and met requirements like working, paying taxes, and learning English.
Underscoring this nonpunitive approach to immigration reform, the poll also asked voters to choose from two statements concerning immigration and the economy. One statement suggested that we’d be better off if people in the United States illegally left the country because they’re taking jobs Americans need, while the other statement suggested we’d be better off if illegal immigrants became legal taxpayers and paid their fair share. By 67-28, voters chose making illegal immigrants legal over having them leave the country.
Finally, voters were asked directly about what do with the 12 million illegal immigrants in the country in addition to obvious steps like securing our borders and deporting illegal immigrants who commit crimes. Just 22 percent thought they must leave the country and an even smaller group, 11 percent, thought they should be allowed to stay on a temporary basis but not allowed to become citizens. The overwhelming majority, 66 percent, thought the best way to deal with the situation was to require the illegal immigrants to register, meet certain conditions, and then allow them to apply for citizenship.
Immigration reform may be a difficult issue to handle politically. But conservatives and others who claim there is no real public support for immigration reform are just plain wrong.
Ruy Teixeira is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. To learn more about his public opinion analysis go to the Media and Progressive Values page and the Progressive Studies program page of our website.