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How the First Caucus State is Offering a Sensible—and Popular—Solution on Immigration Reform

by Pili Tobar on 12/14/2011 at 11:47am

iowa compactOn Tuesday, December 13th, community, business, and religious leaders in Iowa launched the Iowa Compact, which charts a sensible course on immigration policy – a welcome contrast to the “papers, please” crackdowns passed in Arizona and Alabama. And, as Iowans well know, ugly immigration rhetoric has been a standard component from most of the GOP 2012 presidential contenders.  But, according to a raft of new polling, the sentiment behind the Compact is far more in line with the wishes of Iowans and other Americans across the ideological spectrum than the approach championed by most Republican presidential candidates.   

The Iowa Compact is supported by a range of business, civic, political, and religious leaders across the state and across the partisan spectrum who believe that “immigration policy falls under the purview of federal, not state government” and requires a federal solution.  As the Des Moines Register writes, “Republican presidential candidates should abandon sound bites about building walls along the U.S. border and deporting undocumented workers, and look to immigration as part of the solution to the nation’s economic challenges, says a group of business and civic leaders…The compact calls for smart immigration enforcement, keeping families together and consideration for the role immigrants play in the U.S. and Iowa economies.  Similar compacts have been adopted in other states, including Indiana and Utah.  The group hopes to use the national attention surrounding Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses to drive middle-ground discussions of immigration reform.”

Voters in Iowa, including most likely Republican caucus-goers, are not as rabidly anti-immigrant and animated by the issue as some politicians seem to believe.  America’s Voice has produced a recap of recent Iowa polling, which you can find here.  Among the highlights:

A Washington Post-ABC News poll of likely Iowa Republican caucus-goers finds that Newt Gingrich’s immigration stance attracts twice as many caucus-goers as it repels.  The poll listed a series of controversies that had arisen during the primary campaign, asking respondents if they considered each issue a major factor to support the candidate in question, oppose the candidate, or if it was not a major factor. When asked about “Newt Gingrich’s position on illegal immigration,” which includes a path to legal status for some longtime undocumented immigrants, 34% of potential caucus-goers and 38% of likely caucus-goers said it was a major reason to support Gingrich, while only 16% of potential caucus-goers and 15% of likely caucus-goers said it was a major reason to oppose him.

Public Policy Polling (PPP) polling of Iowa Republican caucus-goers found that there is “not much evidence that Gingrich’s immigration stance will prove to be an issue.  Only 29% of caucus voters think illegal immigrants who have been in the country for 25 years and paid their taxes and obeyed the law should be deported, to 44% who think they should not be.  Something may sink Newt’s campaign in the next month, but it’s not likely to be that issue.”  Like the Post/ABC poll, PPP also found that immigration was far from a driving force for Republican caucus-goers, as only 3 percent ranked “illegal immigration” as their most important issue when deciding their vote.  In comparison, 43 percent named “government spending, reducing the debt,” 27 percent “jobs/economy,” 9 percent “social issues,” and 4 percent “taxes.”

Polling conducted for the Partnership for a New American Economy by Iowa-based pollsters Selzer & Co. found that “likely caucus-goers in Iowa support legal immigration reform and rank illegal immigration as a lower priority than most other issues polled.”  Though the poll showed concern among Iowans about the issue of illegal immigration and support for a variety of enforcement measures, it did not specifically explore support for a path to legalization or citizenship or ask about voters’ support for the specific candidates’ immigration platforms.  The Selzer & Co. poll did show that immigration isn’t the driving force for Republican voters that some portray it as: 46% labeled “Halting Illegal Immigration” as “critical,” 27% as “important,” and 16% as “somewhat important.”  Comparatively, immigration ranked much lower on the “critical” scale than such issues as “Reforming government spending and debt” (85% labeled as “critical”), “Creating jobs in the U.S.” (70% “critical”), “Encouraging the creation of new businesses in the U.S.” (64% “critical”), and “Reforming taxes” (52% “critical”).  The remainder of the poll showed broad support for a range of proposals designed to increase legal immigration.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice:

The Iowa Compact is a tangible reminder that there is another way on immigration that is more sensible and more popular than pretending we can enforce our way to a controlled and orderly immigration system.  The leaders who put forth this Compact are right – the solution must come from Washington, not the states.  Polling shows that voters in Iowa and across the country want common sense, federal reform.  It’s time for Washington to catch up.

Read about the Iowa Compact

Access recent immigration-related polling of likely Iowa Republican caucus-goers

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