Update: Pew Adds to Mountain of Data Showing Support for Immigration Reform

Just two days after this post with a summary of recent public opinion surveys on immigration, the Pew Research Center, on June 4, released their yet another poll, and it is very consistent with others going back months and years. 

In the Pew survey, nearly three in four Americans (72%) agreed that “there should be a way for [undocumented immigrants] to stay in the country legally, if certain requirements are met.” Democrats, Independents and Republicans all favored allowing undocumented immigrants to remain in the country legally (80%, 76% and 56%, respectively). Like a number of other surveys, this survey finds that young people are among the greatest supporters of the path to legal status—81% of those younger than 30.

Only 36 percent of respondents to the Pew survey felt that giving undocumented immigrants a path to legal status “is like rewarding them for doing something wrong.” Among Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents in this survey, only 34% said that Republicans were doing a good job representing their views on the immigration issue.

Bottom line: the public is far ahead of Congress when it comes to support for immigration reform with a path to citizenship.

Republican Primary Messages Contradict Public Support for a Path to Citizenship

The first half of 2015 is nearly over. So far this year, the immigration debate has been dominated by President Obama’s executive action on immigration and Republican efforts to stop it. Republican state leaders have been successful in using the courts to temporarily halt the president’s action. Congress has drafted legislation to overturn the President’s actions. Presidential races are underway, and many candidates for the Republican nomination have vowed to end the President’s order.

Between last year and this, the focus of the immigration debate has changed. Last year, it was legislation moving through Congress that would have offered long-resident undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship, provided they could meet certain conditions. Conservative Republicans were successful at killing reform.

This year, with Congress seeming incapable of reforming the immigration laws, the President has acted to protect, at least temporarily, some of the same long-resident undocumented immigrants who would have benefited from the legislation. Again, conservative Republicans are trying to stop relief for these aspiring Americans.

It’s time to take another look at how the public feels about all this. By looking at several public opinion polls since the beginning of the year, it is clear that the public’s attitude has changed very little from last year to this. There is majority support for allowing undocumented immigrants to stay in the U.S. legally.


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Jeff Sessions: Champion of the American Worker? Really?

Senator Jeff Session (R-AL) has been the Senate’s leading opponent of comprehensive immigration reform. He now chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee Immigration Subcommittee. On April 9, Senator Sessions published an opinion piece in the Washington Post, laying out his case against legal immigration.

During the immigration reform debates in previous congresses, Mr. Sessions has been an ardent opponent of giving our long-resident undocumented immigrants a way to gain legal status. In this piece, he touts his opposition to legal immigrants as well.

As is typical of immigration restrictionists, Mr. Sessions cloaks his anti-immigrant inclinations in arguments supporting the American worker. Let’s look at a couple of those arguments.

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As Hope for Reform Fades, Administrative Action Becomes More Likely

On June 30, President Obama made remarks in which he criticized the failure of House Republicans to “stand up to the Tea Party in order to do what’s best for the country” and pass an immigration reform bill. He said that he would begin a new effort “to fix as much of the immigration system as I can on my own, without Congress.” He directed DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson and Attorney General Eric Holder to move resources to the border, and to make additional recommendations by the end of the summer, after which he will adopt those recommendations “without further delay.”

The president made this announcement after he was informed that Republicans would block a vote on an immigration bill at least for the remainder of the year.

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Despite Cantor Loss, Reform Still Alive in Congress

It has been nearly a year since the Senate passed a sweeping immigration overhaul on June 27. The House has yet to act. The cause of the delay continues to be the internal divisions within the Republican Conference, with a sizable numbers of the conference opposed to reform.  Many members of Congress are now waiting to see how the primary season will turn out. Will members who have voiced support for immigration reform retain their positions?

Republican primary elections have yet to offer clarity on support for reform

On June 10, the small-tent faction of the Republican party, or the “tea party,” celebrated victory in Virginia’s 7th Congressional district, where a poorly-funded tea party challenger beat the Republican Party’s second-highest-ranking member in the House, Eric Cantor. Cantor was seen as a supporter of reform, although he played both sides of the issue during his campaign. Still, his opponent attacked Cantor’s support for “amnesty,” and Cantor’s loss has given the press more reason to declare immigration reform officially dead.

On the other hand, other primaries have yielded the opposite results for candidates who have been supporters of reform. On the same day that Cantor lost, one of the leaders in pushing reform legislation through the Senate, Lindsey Graham, very comfortably won his primary in South Carolina. Graham received 57 percent of the vote, far ahead of the 15 percent received by the second-place finisher in a field of six challengers.

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Reading the Tea Leaves on Immigration Reform

As Congress returns from a two-week recess, we are still awaiting movement on immigration reform in the House. While there is still no sign of concrete accomplishment in the House, the tension between the two factions of House Republicans continue to break the surface and create news for immigration reporters always looking to write immigration reform’s obituary.

An example: Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida and a potential Republican presidential candidate, created a stir when he said of undocumented immigrants,

“Yes, they broke the law, but it’s not a felony. It’s an act of love. It’s an act of commitment to your family. I honestly think that that is a different kind of crime that there should be a price paid, but it shouldn’t rile people up that people are actually coming to this country to provide for their families.”

As usual, any suggestion that undocumented immigrants be treated with something less than mass deportation caused some on the right wing of the Republican Party to have an apoplectic fit. However, there were also prominent voices within the party who came to Mr. Bush’s defense.

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With Reform Stuck in the House, Pressure Increases on the President


With the clock ticking on immigration reform in this Congress, House Republicans show no sign of bringing immigration reform legislation to a vote. Advocates, while still pushing House leaders to act, have begun to turn their attention to the president.

Since his State of the Union Address, the president has repeatedly promised to use his executive authority to do what he can on any number of issues that remain stalled because of congressional inaction. Immigration advocates—and some members of Congress—are urging him to use his executive authority to mitigate the suffering endured by families due to the broken immigration system.

President Obama has, up to now, maintained that he has limited authority to stop deportations. However, on March 14, the president met with reform advocates and told them he has ordered a review, in search of a more “humane” deportation policy.  Possible changes being considered, according to press reports, include the easing or stopping the deportations of persons who have no criminal convictions other than immigration violations and a limitation on immigration detainers. Experts—including former ICE Acting Director John Sandweg—have proposed other shifts in policy that would help ease the burden on families.

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Ups and Downs: Republican Leaders Backing Off from Immigration Reform


If the immigration reform debate was an amusement ride, it would be a roller coaster. At the end of last month, House Republican leaders released a set of “standards” that, they said, would guide their work on immigration reform in this Congress. A few days later, on February 6, House Speaker John Boehner went before the press to say that,

“…there’s widespread doubt about whether [the Obama administration] can be trusted to enforce our laws, and it’s going to be difficult to move any immigration legislation until that changes.”

Mr. Boehner appeared to be dampening hopes he had raised the week before that the House would act on immigration reform. This latest news won’t be the end of the immigration reform ride in this Congress.

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House Republicans Get Ready to Move on Immigration Reform

At a retreat of the Republican Conference at the end of January, Republican leaders released a set of “standards” for immigration reform. The standards acknowledge that the immigration system must be fixed, and Republicans will devise solutions through a “step-by-step” process. Their vision includes putting border security and interior enforcement first, implementing an entry-exit visa tracking system, a universal electronic employment verification system, reforms to the legal immigration system that include more visas for skilled workers and a workable temporary worker program, and some process for allowing the undocumented to live in the country legally (including legal residency and citizenship for young people brought to the country as children).

The standards leave much to interpretation. For example, regarding border security, the standards say, “[w]e must secure our borders now and verify that they are secure.”  What does that verification look like? The standards say “[t]here will be no special path to citizenship for individuals who broke our nation’s immigration laws….” Does this preclude citizenship for the undocumented?

All of this will become concrete once legislation is drafted in the coming months. For the most part, advocates are cautiously optimistic—encouraged that Republican leaders are acknowledging the need for reform, but needing to see how these standards are interpreted in legislation.

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