Can the country agree on immigration reform?

February 05, 2014, 3:02 PM GMT+0

Most Americans back a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, but Republicans buck the trend and tend to oppose immigration reform

Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress say they will try to pass some sort of immigration reform this year, but the American public, in the latest Economist/YouGov Poll, comes together on only some components of any reform – and they don’t expect Congress to pass any kind of immigration reform bull this session.

One divisive area is what has been called the “pathway to citizenship” for those who entered the country illegally. Democrats have always favored this as a possibility: and in this week’s poll two-thirds of them do. 58% of Republicans oppose such legislation.

Independents are divided; overall, there is majority support.

But although a majority supports a way of legalizing those now here illegally, some prefer other options when they are offered as alternatives. Asked what should happen to those who are now here illegally, are working and have no criminal history, a path to citizenship gets just 41% support overall. Another quarter favor a path to residency – NOT citizenship – or temporary legalization of illegal immigrants. One in four would grant NO legal status to illegal immigrants.

Republicans are closely divided on this question. Speaker of the House John Boehner has proposed a way to legal residency (NOT citizenship) for those now here illegally who have no criminal record. Four in ten Republicans nationwide would be willing to provide some type of permanent legal status for undocumented workers (and more would support a path to citizenship than a path only to legal residency); the rest would not. A third of Republicans want NO legal recognition of those here illegally.

There is one area where the parties agree. Boehner also called for providing a path to citizenship for those who were brought here as children by illegal immigrants. More than half of Republicans and two-thirds of the country overall would support that proposal.

There is also bipartisan agreement that nothing is likely to happen soon: just over one in four think it is even somewhat likely Congress will pass immigration reform this year.

Of course, Americans tend to expect the worst of Congress. In this week’s poll, only 11% say they approve of the way Congress in handling its job. And in recent Economist/YouGov Polls, most Americans have said that last year’s Congress accomplished less than usual, and that there would be more of the same this year.

The partisan split on immigration is something Americans recognize. 55% of Americans believe most Democrats want an immigration reform law to pass this year; 50% believe that is something most Republicans don’t want to see happen. Even more important, perhaps, is that many Americans see both parties as taking a stand on immigration for political reasons and not because it may be a good policy decision.

The sense that immigration policy is as much motived by politics as it is by policy is even felt within the parties. Seven in ten Republicans think members of their own party who want to pass immigration reform this year are motived as much or more by political considerations as by policy thoughts; 56% of Democrats feel that way about Democrats in office who favor immigration reform.

And although Democrats hold an advantage over Republicans when asked which party people trust more on immigration, 39% of the public trusts neither party. Most independents as well as 35% of Republicans trust no party on immigration.

Many politicians, Republicans and Democrats alike are eyeing the growing Hispanic vote, which last year went heavily to President Obama. According to exit polls, 71% of Hispanic voters supported President Obama; only 27% voted for Republican Mitt Romney. Hispanics made up a growing share of the electorate: 10% of all voters in 2012.

They overwhelmingly favor immigration reform – 65% of Hispanics want a pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers; 73% want a way for their children to become citizens. Like the rest of the country, they don’t expect immigration reform this year.

Image: Getty

Full results can be found here.

Economist/YouGov poll archives can be found here.

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