Pew Research: Public Mixed on Immigration Policy

With Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano playing a key role, the Obama administration has attempted to stake out a middle ground on immigration issues, stressing the necessity of both stricter enforcement against illegal immigration and the creation of clearer, fairer pathways for undocumented immigrants already in the United States to earn legal citizenship.
Pursuit of this middle course strategy has made the administration and Secreatary Napolitano the target of outspoken criticism from both immigration “hawks” and “doves”. According to an report published last week by the Pew Research firm, however, Napolitano’s middle course strategy may be representative of the attitudes of a majority of the US public.
A substantial majority of 63% of the public, according to the report favors changes that would make it possible for many undocumented immigrants to remain in the United States–a number that has held consistent in various polls taken since 2007.
At the same, according to Pew, an equally large majority also generally favors stronger efforts to enforce existing immigration laws. "Majorities favor increasing penalties on businesses that hire undocumented workers, beefing up border security, and allowing states to check immigration status before issuing driver’s licenses,” the analysis says.
Underlying the public’s attitudes about specific reform proposals, according to the research firm, is a set of contradictory and conflicted perceptions and attitudes about immigrants.
“Numerous polls over the past several years have found that the public generally respects immigrants for their strong work ethic, good family values and for the cultural contributions they make to American society,” the analysis says. “ But at the same time,” it adds, “ pluralities or majorities believe that illegal immigrants weaken the economy by using public services, failing to pay their fair share of taxes, not making enough of an effort to assimilate and, according to some surveys, contributing to the threat of terrorism and the crime problem. And, more generally, large majorities of the public continue to favor limiting the number of immigrants entering the country (73% in April of this year).”
Nonetheless, the research firm found that the public’s appetite for enforcement-based solutions is not unlimited.
“Though most favor increasing border security,” the report says, “the public has been divided over the building of a security fence along the U.S.-Mexico border. Relatively few people say that deportation of illegal immigrants should have ahigh priority when asked to choose among different options for dealing with the issue.”
The prospects for widespread public support for the administration’s goal of comprehensive immigration reform depend on several factors that are difficult to forecast, according to the research firm. The first is the economy and whether the deep recession and high unemployment will increase opposition to a policy that eventually leads to legal residence for millions of workers currently in the US illegally.
“Anxiety about the job competition immigrants pose to American workers was important during the debate in 2006-2007, but polling during that period found significant majorities saying that immigrants generally take jobs American workers don’t want, rather than taking jobs away from Americans,” the report explains. “How much that view has changed today will affect how well the Democratic Party, in particular, can hold together a coalition in support of reform.”
Another wild card according to the report is how willing Republican Party leaders will be to support a cross-party coalition in the Congress.
“Both John McCain and Mitt Romney encountered criticism from conservatives within the GOP during their run for the Republican nomination for president,” says the Pew report. “And, of course, President Bush was unable to unify his party around a comprehensive immigration measure in 2007, despite having made it a priority for his second term. Arguably, conservatives hold more sway within the party now than a few years ago. As noted earlier, public opinion on the issue has become more partisan over this period, with Democrats expressing greater support for reform than Republicans.”
Despite the apparent congruence between public opinion and the policy initiatives outlined by the Obama administration, opposition to setting up a process for undocumented immigrants to achieve citizenship may be more intense — even if less widespread — than support for it, Pew warns.
“The nation’s economic situation is significantly worse than it was when the issue was debated in 2006 and 2007,” the report explains. “Some Republican lawmakers have raised concerns about the competition for jobs posed by foreign-born workers. More generally, partisan differences on the issue have grown since two years ago, potentially making it more difficult to achieve a consensus in Congress. And, … as the debate over health care reform has shown, there is considerable public anxiety right now about the scope of the federal government’s activities and its capacity to undertake major policy changes.”

(Visited 3 times, 1 visits today)

The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

Leave a Reply