Just under a month ago, House Republican leaders put out a set of standards that laid out their principles for immigration reform, including, for the first time, an endorsement of legalization for the 11.7 million unauthorized immigrants living in the country. But the principles stopped short of offering a full pathway to citizenship, instead coming out in favor of legal status only.
How do the American people feel about immigration reform and a pathway to legal status only? Despite the many ways to phrase the question, five recent polls from January and February illustrate clearly that the public strongly supports immigration reform that includes a pathway to citizenship, rejects approaches that would continue to give unauthorized immigrants second-class status, and will be disappointed if immigration reform fails to pass this year.
Here are the five most recent polls on immigration.
1. Gallup: Dealing with unauthorized immigrants already in the country trumps border security (February 2014)
Gallup’s most recent polling on immigration found that more Americans believe that dealing with unauthorized immigrants living in the United States is more important than securing the nation’s borders. While Americans are almost split on the two issues, with 44 percent in favor of first dealing with the unauthorized and 43 percent in favor of first securing the border, the survey shows a big shift from just a few years ago. In 2011, Gallup found that Americans favored securing the border first by 10 percentage points—53 percent to 43 percent.
Digging into the data illustrates that support for securing the border first has declined among both Republicans and Democrats. Support among Republicans, for example, decreased from 68 percent in 2011 to only 56 percent in 2014; while among Democrats, it has dropped from 42 percent to 31 percent. Still, it is important to note that legal status and border security can occur on parallel tracks, as in the Senate immigration reform bill, which makes unprecedented investments in border security and enforcement while providing a pathway to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants.
This polling follows attempts by members of both parties to provide a pathway to legal status for unauthorized immigrants, either through the Senate-passed immigration reform plan or the Republican principles released in January.
2. CNN/ORC International: Legalizing unauthorized immigrants is our first immigration priority, and Americans support a full pathway to citizenship (February 2014)
Just more than half of all Americans in a CNN/ORC International poll argued that the first priority on immigration should be providing a pathway to legal status for unauthorized immigrants living in the country, while only 41 percent believed that stopping unauthorized immigration should be the top priority. These results stand in sharp relief to similar polling done in 2011 and before, when a majority of Americans believed that stopping unauthorized immigration should come before allowing unauthorized immigrants access to legal status. As CNN Polling Director Keating Holland argued, “The Republicans’ insistence that border security be the primary focus of U.S. immigration policy may have been a popular stand in 2011, but not necessarily in 2014.”
Overall, 8 out of 10 Americans believed that unauthorized immigrants who have been in the country for years and are employed, speak English, and would pay back taxes should be allowed to become citizens, while nearly two-thirds of those polled stated that they would oppose a bill that only granted legal status but no way to achieve citizenship. Both of these results were more or less consistent regardless of whether the respondent was a Democrat, a Republican, or an independent. It is clear from the poll that the American public supports a full pathway to citizenship, not the granting of merely second-class legal status.
3. Global Strategy Group/Basswood Research: 74 percent of voters will be disappointed if Congress does not pass immigration reform (February 2014)
A new poll by Democratic polling firm Global Strategy Group and Republican firm Basswood Research found that nearly 79 percent of all Americans want immigration reform, and nearly three out of four Americans will be disappointed if Congress fails to act. Despite members of Congress saying that immigration reform can wait, it is clear that voters disagree.
More importantly, Americans are strongly in favor of the main components of immigration reform: Two-thirds of all Americans support a pathway to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants, including a majority of Republican voters. When it comes to DREAMers—young unauthorized immigrants—nearly 9 out of 10 voters support allowing them to become citizens. Other major provisions of immigration reform—including securing the border, creating a new merit-based immigration visa, and mandating electronic employment verification—all have around 80 percent approval rates.
4. CBS News: The majority of Americans favor the pathway to citizenship and soundly reject legal-status-only approaches (January 2014)
In a CBS News poll, a majority of Americans—54 percent—felt that unauthorized immigrants should be allowed to become citizens. Importantly, while most Americans are in favor of the pathway to citizenship, they strongly reject approaches that would leave unauthorized immigrants with second-class status: Only 12 percent of respondents believed that unauthorized immigrants should receive legal status but not be able to become citizens. Two-thirds of Democrats supported the pathway to citizenship, while only 43 percent of Republicans did. However, a smaller percentage of Republicans—9 percent—than any other group supported a legal-status-only approach to immigration reform. This final result should give pause to congressional leadership as they propose, as Republicans did with their immigration principles, legalization without citizenship for unauthorized immigrants.
5. Fox News: More than two-thirds of Americans support the pathway to citizenship and reject mass deportation (January 2014)
When asked, “Which of the following comes closest to your view about what government policy should be toward undocumented immigrants currently in the United States?”, 68 percent of Americans favored a pathway to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants in the country if they meet requirements such as paying back taxes and passing background checks. Support for requiring all unauthorized immigrants to be sent back to their home countries stood at only 15 percent. Support for the pathway to citizenship has increased slightly, by 2 percent, since May 2013, while support for sending unauthorized immigrants home has dropped 5 percent.
Just one week after releasing the House Republican principles, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) fanned the flames of his own party, stating that members could not move forward on immigration because they lacked trust that President Barack Obama will enforce the laws. But these arguments—and those voices in the Republican Party urging a delay in immigration reform until next year, at the earliest—do not actually challenge the substance of reform proposals, or even the substance of the Republicans’ own principles regarding immigration reform. Instead, they tacitly accept the premise that immigration reform should happen without actually moving it forward.
As Greg Sargent of The Washington Post points out, “GOP stalling on immigration is not about ‘distrust of Obama.’” From the polling above, it is clear that it is not about public opinion either. Americans support immigration reform, including the pathway to citizenship, and will be disappointed if Congress fails to pass legislation this year. The window for acting on immigration reform is open through 2014, the public supports it, and now is the time for the House to step up and pass it.
Philip E. Wolgin is a Senior Policy Analyst on the Immigration Policy team at the Center for American Progress. Evelyn Galvan is an intern with the Immigration Policy team.