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Poll: Public Prefers Citizenship for Dreamers

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US-Mexico Border fence
National Journal
Ronald Brownstein
May 9, 2012, 4:52 a.m.

On im­mig­ra­tion, most Amer­ic­ans fa­vor the vel­vet glove — and the iron fist.

The latest United Tech­no­lo­gies/Na­tion­al Journ­al Con­gres­sion­al Con­nec­tion Poll found that a sol­id, if slightly di­min­ish­ing, ma­jor­ity of Amer­ic­ans sup­port key ele­ments of Ari­zona’s anti-il­leg­al-im­mig­ra­tion law that the White House is seek­ing to over­turn.

But the sur­vey also found that a pre­pon­der­ant ma­jor­ity of Amer­ic­ans re­ject the op­tion of de­port­ing all of the es­tim­ated 11 mil­lion im­mig­rants here il­leg­ally, and an even lar­ger per­cent­age be­lieve that young people brought to the U.S. il­leg­ally should be al­lowed to re­main if they at­tend col­lege or join the mil­it­ary. Presen­ted with a Demo­crat­ic pro­pos­al that would guar­an­tee those young people a path­way to cit­izen­ship, and an emer­ging al­tern­at­ive from Sen. Marco Ru­bio, R-Fla., that would not, a plur­al­ity said they prefer the Demo­crat­ic ver­sion of the so-called Dream Act.

These con­trast­ing im­pulses re­af­firm a bal­ance long evid­ent in pub­lic at­ti­tudes. Most Amer­ic­ans con­sist­ently have dis­played a strong com­mit­ment to en­for­cing ex­ist­ing law and bor­der se­cur­ity, tempered by a prag­mat­ic and hu­mane streak that ques­tions the plaus­ib­il­ity of up­root­ing mil­lions already settled here. Race, age, and party loy­alty all in­flu­ence how Amer­ic­ans tilt between those poles.
The Con­gres­sion­al Con­nec­tion Poll, con­duc­ted by Prin­ceton Sur­vey Re­search As­so­ci­ates In­ter­na­tion­al, sur­veyed 999 adults on May 3-6; it has a mar­gin of er­ror of +/- 3.6 per­cent.

The in­stinct to con­trol the bor­der is ap­par­ent in sup­port for some of the con­tro­ver­sial ele­ments of the Ari­zona stat­ute, over which the Su­preme Court heard or­al ar­gu­ments in April. Some 57 per­cent in the poll said they sup­por­ted the pro­vi­sion al­low­ing “po­lice to ques­tion any­one who they think may be in the coun­try il­leg­ally.” Like­wise, 68 per­cent said that they sup­port the pro­vi­sion re­quir­ing “people to pro­duce doc­u­ments veri­fy­ing their leg­al status if po­lice ask for them.” Both of these pro­vi­sions drew ma­jor­ity sup­port not only from whites, but also from Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans (though sup­port among the lat­ter lagged slightly). Strong ma­jor­it­ies of Re­pub­lic­ans and in­de­pend­ents backed both ideas as well, and nearly three-fifths of Demo­crats sup­por­ted al­low­ing po­lice to ask for pa­pers (though a slight ma­jor­ity of Demo­crats op­posed po­lice stops of sus­pec­ted il­leg­al im­mig­rants). Both young­er and older whites liked the two pro­vi­sions. Only His­pan­ics broke against both ideas (the sur­vey in­cluded too few His­pan­ics to re­port their re­sponses in gran­u­lar de­tail).

Two oth­er com­pon­ents of the Ari­zona law drew less back­ing. A nar­row 53 per­cent ma­jor­ity said that po­lice should be al­lowed “to de­tain any­one who can­not veri­fy their leg­al status,” a sig­ni­fic­ant drop from the 67 per­cent who sup­por­ted that idea in 2010. Most whites and Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans backed al­low­ing such de­ten­tion, but it faced great­er res­ist­ance from Demo­crats, in­de­pend­ents, young whites, and above all, His­pan­ics. Those polled split evenly, 47 to 47 per­cent, on the law’s pro­vi­sion mak­ing it a crime “for any­one in the coun­try il­leg­ally” to seek or ac­cept work.

The sur­vey also tested at­ti­tudes to­ward deal­ing with young people brought to the U.S. il­leg­ally by their par­ents. Asked what should be done with young people brought here il­leg­ally who are at­tend­ing col­lege or have en­lis­ted in the mil­it­ary, a 49 per­cent plur­al­ity agreed that Con­gress should al­low them to re­main in the coun­try “and guar­an­tee them that they can be­come Amer­ic­an cit­izens if they com­plete their stud­ies or mil­it­ary ser­vice.” An­oth­er 35 per­cent said that Wash­ing­ton should in­stead al­low them to re­main here and “ap­ply for cit­izen­ship … but not guar­an­tee them that they can be­come Amer­ic­an cit­izens.”

The ques­tion did not identi­fy the par­tis­an spon­sors, but the first op­tion sum­mar­izes the Demo­crats’ ex­ist­ing Dream Act, and the second, the al­tern­at­ive that Re­pub­lic­an star Ru­bio is draft­ing. Demo­crats strongly pre­ferred the first op­tion, while in­de­pend­ents did so nar­rowly, and Re­pub­lic­ans split al­most evenly between the two. His­pan­ics heav­ily pre­ferred the Demo­crat­ic op­tion, which also drew sup­port from a slight ma­jor­ity of Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans and a nar­row plur­al­ity of whites. Only one-in-10 of those polled (and even just one-in-sev­en Re­pub­lic­ans) said that those young people should not be al­lowed to re­main here. Sim­il­arly, just 17 per­cent said that the gov­ern­ment should de­port all of the il­leg­al im­mig­rants here “no mat­ter how long” they have lived in the coun­try; that’s down from 25 per­cent last Decem­ber.

An­oth­er 33 per­cent said that all il­leg­al im­mig­rants should be al­lowed to re­main “provided they have broken no oth­er laws and com­mit to learn­ing Eng­lish and U.S. his­tory.”  Forty-four per­cent agreed that the gov­ern­ment should “de­port some, but al­low those who have been here for many years and have broken no oth­er laws to stay here leg­ally.”

Even among the most so­cially con­ser­vat­ive com­pon­ents of the white elect­or­ate — in­clud­ing non­col­lege whites, white seni­ors, and white Re­pub­lic­ans — only about one-in-five sup­por­ted mass de­port­a­tion.

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