Americans Just Aren’t That Into Immigration

A new NBC News/<em>Wall Street Journal</em> poll shows that Americans just aren’t that enthusiastic about new immigration legislation.

A handful of immigration reform proponents demonstrate during the U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree lighting ceremony on the West Front December 3, 2013 in Washington, DC. 
National Journal
Matt Berman
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Matt Berman
Jan. 28, 2014, 5:20 a.m.

It’s a safe bet Pres­id­ent Obama will talk to­night dur­ing his State of the Uni­on about the need for com­pre­hens­ive im­mig­ra­tion re­form. But that plea is fall­ing on am­bi­val­ent ears.

A new poll out Tues­day morn­ing from NBC News and The Wall Street Journ­al takes a look at what is­sues Amer­ic­ans think should be a pri­or­ity for 2014. The clear and ob­vi­ous win­ner: job cre­ation, which 91 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans say should be an ab­so­lute pri­or­ity this year. (The 4 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans who say job cre­ation shouldn’t be pur­sued at all pre­sum­ably mis­heard the ques­tion, we hope.) Oth­er big pri­or­it­ies in­clude re­du­cing the fed­er­al de­fi­cit and en­sur­ing that all chil­dren have ac­cess to pre-K. 

But im­mig­ra­tion re­form? It’s just right there in line with the num­ber of people who are su­per-pumped for pen­sion and en­ti­tle­ment re­form. Just 39 per­cent of re­spond­ents said that new im­mig­ra­tion le­gis­la­tion should be an ab­so­lute pri­or­ity this year, with 42 per­cent say­ing, “Eh, wait till next year,” and 17 per­cent say­ing Con­gress should for­get about re­form en­tirely. Those num­bers are a big shift from 2006, when 47 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans said re­form should have been an ab­so­lute pri­or­ity that year.

The num­bers are ob­vi­ously not good news for re­form ad­voc­ates. This week, House Re­pub­lic­ans will call for a path to leg­al status for un­doc­u­mented res­id­ents, The New York Times re­ports Tues­day, but the pro­pos­al will fall short of a path to cit­izen­ship. And, as The Times re­ports, some Re­pub­lic­ans are already push­ing for House lead­ers to aban­don the is­sue, lest it fur­ther di­vide the party.

When you look at the NBC News poll num­bers, it’s simple to make the polit­ic­al case for the Re­pub­lic­ans who urge fur­ther re­form pro­cras­tin­a­tion. The party genu­inely does face big risks in pur­su­ing this kind of par­tial re­form. A re­cent Pew Re­search poll found that 68 per­cent of Re­pub­lic­ans be­lieve that of­fer­ing a path to leg­al status would re­ward il­leg­al be­ha­vi­or, and 72 per­cent say it’d be a drain on gov­ern­ment ser­vices. 

The GOP is go­ing to need more sup­port from Latino voters to sur­vive, and it’d be ab­surd for the party to just push off im­mig­ra­tion re­form forever. But right now, with en­thu­si­asm for re­form low and en­thu­si­asm for the GOP even lower, it’s easy to see the forces against re­form win­ning out. At least for this year.

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