How Public Opinion on Immigration Reform Has Changed in the Last Year

In short: Not much. A majority of Americans still want a pathway to citizenship.

An immigration activist holds up a sign on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol during an All In for Citizenship rally April 10, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. 
National Journal
Elahe Izad
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Elahe Izad
June 10, 2014, 1:20 a.m.

It’s been al­most a year since the Sen­ate passed a com­pre­hens­ive im­mig­ra­tion-re­form bill, and pub­lic opin­ion on how Wash­ing­ton should tackle the is­sue has re­mained largely un­changed.

That’s ac­cord­ing to find­ings from a new joint sur­vey by Pub­lic Re­li­gion Re­search In­sti­tute and the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion, which found that 62 per­cent of re­spond­ents — the same as last year — sup­port un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rants be­ing able to be­come cit­izens, should they meet par­tic­u­lar re­quire­ments.

Equal num­bers of tea-party-aligned Re­pub­lic­ans back a path­way to cit­izen­ship as do sup­port identi­fy­ing and de­port­ing un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rants: 37 per­cent. And just 23 per­cent fa­vor al­low­ing the un­doc­u­mented to be­come leg­al, per­man­ent res­id­ents, which aligns with House GOP im­mig­ra­tion prin­ciples un­veiled earli­er in the year.

More broadly, 70 per­cent of Demo­crats, 61 per­cent of in­de­pend­ents, and 51 per­cent of Re­pub­lic­ans sup­port a path­way to cit­izen­ship — al­most identic­al to a year ago.

Sup­port for a path­way to cit­izen­ship is down among one not­able group: white evan­gel­ic­al Prot­est­ants. Last year, a ma­jor­ity backed such a policy. That sup­port has dropped in the last year by 8 points, to 48 per­cent.

At­ti­tudes about the im­pact of im­mig­ra­tion on the Amer­ic­an eco­nomy have also shif­ted. Last year, 56 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans said that il­leg­al im­mig­ra­tion hurts the eco­nomy by driv­ing low wages. Now, 46 per­cent think that, while 45 per­cent say il­leg­al im­mig­ra­tion helps the eco­nomy by provid­ing low-cost labor.

Ad­voc­ates for im­mig­ra­tion re­form see this sum­mer as the fi­nal win­dow of op­por­tun­ity for le­gis­la­tion to pass the House. Pres­id­ent Obama has held off on tak­ing new ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tions re­lated to de­port­a­tion en­force­ment in the name of giv­ing House Re­pub­lic­ans enough space to pass something big­ger. But the GOP doesn’t seem to be budging.

Al­though sup­port is high for mak­ing changes to the im­mig­ra­tion sys­tem that align with the Sen­ate-passed bill — namely al­low­ing for a path­way to cit­izen­ship — that doesn’t mean that most Amer­ic­ans are ex­tremely pas­sion­ate about Wash­ing­ton do­ing something. High­er per­cent­ages of Demo­crats, in­de­pend­ents, and Re­pub­lic­ans say that “deal­ing with the mor­al break­down of the coun­try” should be the highest pri­or­ity for Wash­ing­ton than say the same about re­form­ing the na­tion’s im­mig­ra­tion sys­tem.

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