Ron Brownstein captures the results of a new National Journal poll on immigration quite succinctly: “On immigration, most Americans favor the velvet glove—and the iron fist.”
For years, anti-immigration groups have exploited Americans’ frustration with the broken immigration system to advance their enforcement-only agenda. Meanwhile, polls have consistently shown that strong majorities of Americans favor a both/and approach – stronger enforcement and avenues to citizenship for certain undocumented immigrants.
The United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll makes a good faith effort to separate the policy from the message, and identify where Americans really stand on a number of immigration policies. It finds support for pieces of the Arizona anti-immigration law (and doesn’t delve into the troubling consequences of Arizona becoming a police state). Seventy-seven percent of respondents support legalizing some or all undocumented immigrants, while only 17% said we should deport all undocumented immigrants in the United States. According to Brownstein:
Even among the most socially conservative components of the white electorate – including non-college whites, white seniors, and white Republicans – only about one-in-five supported mass deportation.
But perhaps the most intriguing finding is about a path to citizenship for undocumented youth who go to college or join the military. Forty-nine percent (including 39% of Republicans and 45% of Independents) support a “guarantee” of citizenship for young people who complete college or military service, and 35% (40% of Republicans and 41% of Independents) support allowing them to apply for citizenship without “guaranteeing” the outcome. That makes 84% of Americans (79% of Republicans and 86% of Independents) clearly in favor of the policy behind the DREAM Act.
Public opinion on immigration can seem tricky, but on this issue the results are clear: Americans firmly support access to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, especially young people. The implications are also clear: Mitt Romney and the nativist wing of the Republican Party speak for a minority of Americans. They are on the wrong side of public opinion and the wrong side of history.
The Congressional Connection Poll, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, surveyed 999 adults on May 3-6; it has a margin of error of +/- 3.6 percent.