Washington, D.C. – In a report released today by the Center for American Progress and The Century Foundation, author Ruy Teixeira answers the question: 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. A sampling of these poll results include:
- Time magazine found that 68 percent of Americans believe illegal immigration is a very or an extremely serious problem. Similarly, the Pew Foundation found that 74 percent of Americans consider immigration a very big or moderately big problem.
- The Pew Foundation poll found that 52 percent of respondents think “immigrants today are a burden on our country because they take our jobs, housing and health care,”
- 70 percent of respondents in a Fox poll think that immigrants “weaken the U.S. economy because they don’t all pay taxes but use public services.”
- An Ipsos poll showed 51 percent to 42 percent responded to saying that immigrants make a contribution to American society rather than serve as a drain on society.
- According to the Pew Foundation poll, 80 percent of Americans believe immigrants from Latin America have strong family values.
- An ABC poll shows that 77 percent say the U.S. is “not doing enough to keep illegal immigrants from coming into this country.”
- The Gallup poll shows 61 percent saying that illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay in the U.S. and possibly become citizens if they meet “certain requirements,” far outnumbering those who favor a limited time option or complete deportation.
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 illegal 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.