Immigration Survey: 63 Percent of Americans Think Reform Should Include Pathway to Citizenship

One of the largest surveys on immigration ever conducted in the United States reveals that a majority of Americans support immigration reform that leads to a pathway to citizenship, but it also highlights that Americans are more concerned about jobs, reducing the budget deficit and changing the federal income tax system, according to a report released Thursday by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and the religion, policy and politics project at the Brookings Institution, a left-of-center think tank.  

A panel discussion on the survey, Religion,Values and Immigration Survey Release: What Factors Influence Views on Immigration Policy? in which nearly 4,500 people were asked to share their opinions about immigration issues, reveals that 63 percent of respondents "agree that the immigration system should deal with immigrants who are currently living in the U.S. illegally by allowing them a way to become citizens." But it also shows that 56 percent of Americans believe that immigration has a negative impact on wages.

The survey was conducted by calling respondents on landlines and cellphones (1,800 were surveyed via cell phone), in English and Spanish, and includes a demographic breakdown of political affiliations, including the Tea Party, race, gender, religion, geographic location and age.

Survey outcomes examine how religion and values influence sentiment toward immigrant communities and perceptions of immigrants' impact on American culture, as well as opinions on current policies that are being debated in Congress.

Robert Jones, the CEO of PRRI and a leading scholar and commentator on religion, values and public life, said there are four points that stand out in the survey results: a positive sentiment toward immigrants among all demographics; concerns about wages for U.S. citizens; a large support for a path to citizenship for the immigrants who are already living in the U.S.; and broad value agreements on the details of immigration reform. 

Jones also noted that respondents who self-identify with the Tea Party are divided on providing a path to citizenship for immigrants. Likewise, Republicans are divided on their opinions about the DREAM Act; and among respondents, there are "hidden concerns" about the white population becoming a minority in the country.

Regarding the political implications of the survey for the Republican Party, Melissa Michelson, a professor of political science and Menlo College, advises the party to change their stance on immigration policy, and move their agenda toward supporting the path to citizenship. "Republicans will have to do more than support comprehensive immigration reform," Michelson advised. "They have to show Hispanic families that they care about them. They cannot say that undocumented immigration is a problem."

Survey results show that: "Nearly half (45 percent) of Americans say the Republican Party's position on immigration has hurt the party in recent elections."

Michelson added that, according to the survey, the vast majority of Americans are unaware that deportations have increased under the Obama administration. "However, Hispanics know, yet Obama received a majority of their votes."

The survey results show that: "Although deportations of illegal immigrants have increased since the beginning of the Obama administration, less than 3-in-10 (28 percent) of Americans correctly state that depor­tations have increased over the past five or six years. A plurality (42 percent) of Americans believe that the number of deportations has stayed the same, while nearly 1-in-5 (18 percent) say deportations have decreased."

She also recommends that, as part of immigration reform, the government create a fraud-proof ID card for all immigrants, so the government will know who everyone is.

According to Michelson, there's also a "striking disconnect" regarding a path to citizenship for LGBT partners in order to "keep families together." The PRRI-Brookings survey reveals that "63 percent of Americans disagree that preference should be given to immigrants who have a gay or lesbian spouse currently living in the U.S. legally." And less than half, 46 percent of millennials say that, "immigrants with a gay or lesbian spouse currently living in the U.S. legally should be given preference."

William Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told The Christian Post that he believes President Obama would prefer to sign a bill that includes the LGBT provision, "but I have no basis for saying that he would veto a bill that didn't include the provision."

"Overall we were surprised by the breadth of support for immigration reform among political parties, ideologies, and religious groups," said Galston, who's also a former policy advisor to President Clinton. "Given that it's been polarized for so long."

He continues, "I have tracked the white working class for a long time. Evangelical Christians are now coming out in favor of the DREAM Act. We asked this question several different ways, from the standpoint of public opinion, to ensure the accuracy of the findings. There are still intense differences [among those surveyed], but there is some agreement."

One of the survey results that intrigue Galston is that 55 percent of women who responded "believe that America has changed for the worse since the 1950s," he noted. "Even college graduates are split on this by 48 to 47 percent. Every cohort over the age of 30 thinks things have gotten worse."

Karlyn Bowman, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said she is not surprised by women's response to the nostalgia question, not only because, "nostalgia impulses have always received a positive response," but also, "women have more opportunities than in the past, but opportunities don't always make people happier," she said.

Among the survey's findings is that immigration ranked sixth out of seven issues that Americans believe should be a priority for Congress and Obama. Immigration reform ranked below enacting stricter gun control laws and above enacting legislation to address climate change. The top three priorities are the economy and jobs, the budget deficit, and changing the federal income tax system to make it fairer.

Galston said he was "not at all" surprised that the economy and jobs ranked highest among Americans' concerns.

That being said, Galston also believes that: "One of the clearest consequences of the 2012 election was increased momentum for immigration reform. The fact that it ranked sixth out of seven doesn't mean that immigration reform is unimportant. [The survey] shows that seven out of ten say it is very important."

Just because it ranked very low in terms of importance, well behind the economy, "doesn't mean they think Congress is doing something that isn't important," Galston said.

Robert Gittelson, co-founder of Conservatives for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, told the CP that he's not surprised by the PRRI-Brookings findings. "[T]hey conform, in general, to how I have been certain that Americans place their values on the issue of immigration reform."

"I was comforted to see that the values that we have been discussing for the last three years, and have articulated in our Evangelical Immigration Table's Statement of Principles, all polled at around 80 percent with the American public across the board," Gittelson said. 

"Even what is perhaps the most contentious issue, an actual pathway to citizenship – which our table endorsed just this Monday – polls with about two out of three Americans as the right thing to do," Gittelson added. "It seems that America has evolved on this issue to the point that a legislative reform of our immigration laws, including an earned pathway to citizenship, would be a welcome and positive solution to a problem that is universally recognized."

He continues, "Therefore, I would humbly conclude that the concept of our allowing for the full inclusion to our society of the currently undocumented as naturalized Americans, speaks to the highest and noblest elements of our shared vision for those that are currently the least among us." 

According to the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and the Hispanic Evangelical Association, the PRRI-Brookings survey "serves as a confirmation that the majority of Americans from both political streams and every major faith affiliation support comprehensive immigration reform."

"The optics of immigration reform no longer includes deportation or just legalization, but rather, as this study demonstrates, Americans desire a full integrative solution that includes citizenship for those currently undocumented," Rodriguez said.

"At the end of the day this PRRI-Brookings study stands as an additional compelling impetus for Congress and the White House to act immediately. Now is the time!"

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