CONGRESS

Public Wants Immigrants to Be Able to Stay

Protestors march outside the Alabama Capitol during a demonstration against Alabama's immigration law in Montgomery, Ala., Tuesday Nov. 15, 2011. Federal courts have blocked parts of the Republican-backed law from taking effect, but both supporters and critics still call it the nation's toughest state law against illegal immigration. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)  
National Journal
Ronald Brownstein
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Ronald Brownstein
Dec. 6, 2011, 4:30 p.m.

As the de­bate over im­mig­ra­tion con­tin­ues to roil the Re­pub­lic­an pres­id­en­tial field, a sub­stan­tial ma­jor­ity of Amer­ic­ans say they would prefer to al­low some or all il­leg­al im­mig­rants to re­main in the United States, the latest United Tech­no­lo­gies/Na­tion­al Journ­al Con­gres­sion­al Con­nec­tion Poll has found.

When asked what should be done with the roughly 11 mil­lion il­leg­al im­mig­rants in the coun­try, just 25 per­cent of those polled said that they should all be de­por­ted “no mat­ter how long they have been in the U.S.”

An­oth­er 28 per­cent of those sur­veyed said that all il­leg­al im­mig­rants should be al­lowed “to stay, provided they have broken no oth­er laws and com­mit to learn­ing Eng­lish and U.S. his­tory.” The largest group, at 39 per­cent, said that the United States should “de­port some, but al­low those who have been here for many years and have broken no oth­er laws to stay here leg­ally.”

The United Tech­no­lo­gies/Na­tion­al Journ­al Con­gres­sion­al Con­nec­tion Poll was con­duc­ted by Prin­ceton Sur­vey Re­search As­so­ci­ates In­ter­na­tion­al from Dec. 1 to 4; it in­ter­viewed 1,008 adults by land­line and cell phone. It has a mar­gin of er­ror of plus or minus 3.7 per­cent­age points.

The poll’s three op­tions on im­mig­ra­tion cor­res­pond ap­prox­im­ately to the po­s­i­tions of the three lead­ing fig­ures in the 2012 pres­id­en­tial race. Former House Speak­er Newt Gin­grich, now emer­ging as the GOP front-run­ner, has ad­voc­ated the third op­tion: He ar­gues that long­time il­leg­al im­mig­rants who have broken no oth­er laws should be gran­ted a right to stay in the coun­try, al­though without cit­izen­ship, by loc­al com­munity boards.

Mitt Rom­ney, the erstwhile Re­pub­lic­an front-run­ner, has aligned him­self closest to the first op­tion. He has said that Gin­grich’s plan amounts to am­nesty and that all il­leg­al im­mig­rants should re­ceive no spe­cial priv­ileges in ap­ply­ing for cit­izen­ship, al­though he has been some­what vague on wheth­er he be­lieves they should be re­quired to leave the coun­try be­fore do­ing so.

Pres­id­ent Obama, like most Demo­crats, has ar­gued that all il­leg­al im­mig­rants who have com­mit­ted no oth­er crime should be provided a path­way to cit­izen­ship, so long as they meet cer­tain re­quire­ments, such as learn­ing Eng­lish.

In the sur­vey, the views of Re­pub­lic­an and Demo­crat­ic voters di­verged some­what but gen­er­ally over­lapped more than the rhet­or­ic of each party’s na­tion­al lead­ers. This is con­sist­ent with oth­er polling that has reg­u­larly shown that even a sub­stan­tial por­tion of the GOP elect­or­ate views mass de­port­a­tion as un­work­able.

In the Con­gres­sion­al Con­nec­tion Poll, just 33 per­cent of Re­pub­lic­ans sup­por­ted de­port­ing all ileg­al im­mig­rants. That’s sig­ni­fic­antly more than the 15 per­cent of Demo­crats who backed that ap­proach. In a roughly mir­ror im­age, just 19 per­cent of Re­pub­lic­ans wanted to al­low all il­leg­al im­mig­rants to stay, com­pared with 32 per­cent of Demo­crats. In both parties, though, the largest group aligned be­hind the choice Gin­grich has cham­pioned: al­low­ing long-term il­leg­al im­mig­rants who have not broken any oth­er law to re­main. Forty-three per­cent of Re­pub­lic­ans and 42 per­cent of Demo­crats backed that op­tion. In­de­pend­ents split al­most evenly between the three op­tions.

Sim­il­arly, while the res­ults con­tained im­port­ant ra­cial dif­fer­ences, the gap was not as large as it was on some oth­er is­sues. Even among whites, just 28 per­cent sup­port de­port­ing all il­leg­al im­mig­rants, while 24 per­cent want to al­low all to re­main, and 40 per­cent want to de­port some.

The poll also found pub­lic skep­ti­cism about an­oth­er con­ser­vat­ive pri­or­ity. Last month, the House passed le­gis­la­tion re­quir­ing any state that al­lows res­id­ents to carry con­cealed weapons to re­cog­nize the con­cealed-carry per­mits gran­ted by every oth­er state. That le­gis­la­tion at­trac­ted 58 votes when Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., offered it in the Sen­ate in 2009, and his staff says he is con­sid­er­ing op­tions to at­tach the pro­pos­al to oth­er le­gis­la­tion now.

The poll presen­ted re­spond­ents with brief ar­gu­ments for and against the idea, not­ing: “Sup­port­ers say this is ne­ces­sary to en­sure people au­thor­ized to carry con­cealed weapons in their own state can pro­tect them­selves wherever they are,” while “Op­pon­ents say it would un­der­mine each state’s abil­ity to set its own stand­ards for who can carry guns, like age or train­ing re­quire­ments.”

After hear­ing those ar­gu­ments, 49 per­cent of adults said they op­posed the le­gis­la­tion and be­lieved it “should not be­come law.” Just 40 per­cent said they sup­por­ted it. The idea pre­cip­it­ated a sharp gender gap: Al­though men sup­por­ted it by a nar­row 47 per­cent to 45 per­cent plur­al­ity, wo­men op­posed it by a sol­id 53 per­cent to 33 per­cent ma­jor­ity. Whites nar­rowly op­posed the idea, while minor­it­ies res­isted it by a lar­ger mar­gin.

Edu­ca­tion among whites marked an­oth­er im­port­ant di­vid­ing line. The con­cealed-weapons bill drew sup­port from a plur­al­ity of whites without four-year de­grees (and sup­port from nearly three-fifths of such non­col­lege men). Mean­while, col­lege-edu­cated whites op­posed the pro­pos­al by 2-to-1.

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