At Saturday night’s ABC News/Des Moines Register Republican presidential debate, most of the candidates continued to demonstrate how out of step they are with the public’s wishes on immigration. As new Fox News polling (yes, FOX News) makes clear, Mitt Romney and other candidates espousing mass deportation positions appeal to a very narrow sliver of anti-immigrant voters in the primary. Their immigration views are not representative of the majority of the Republican primary voting audience, let alone the overall American public.
As Frank Sharry, Executive Director here at America’s Voice said:
Mitt Romney and anyone else spouting mass deportation talking points have been sold a bill of goods by the anti-immigrant movement. Such a position alienates millions of Latino voters and fails to connect with a majority of Americans who are much more pragmatic on this issue than most politicians believe.
The newest entry into a spate of recent polling showing Americans are ahead of Republican politicians on this issue comes from an unlikely source – Fox News. With a headline reading, “Fox News Poll: Voters Back Path to Citizenship for Illegal Immigrants,” the poll asked:
Which of the following comes closest to your view about what government policy should be toward illegal immigrants currently in the United States? Should the government, ‘Send all illegal immigrants back to their home country’ or ‘Have a guest worker program that allows immigrants to remain in the United States to work, but only for a limited amount of time,’ or ‘Allow illegal immigrants to remain in the country and eventually qualify for U.S. citizenship, but only if they meet certain requirements like paying back taxes, learning English, and passing a background check?’
Overall, 66 percent support the option that involves a path to citizenship, versus only 19 percent support for sending all undocumented immigrants home and only 13 percent who favor the guest worker option. Among Republican voters, 57 percent support the path to citizenship option, with 26 percent favoring the deportation only option and 15 percent favoring the guest worker approach. These findings uphold similar polling results found by a range of other news organizations over the past week.
Despite this, last Saturday’s debate featured Mitt Romney giving the clearest indication yet of his preference for mass deportation. Debate moderator Diane Sawyer directed the discussion well, saying, “Can we stipulate that every single person on this stage tonight has said the number one thing to do is secure the borders,” and then asking the candidates’ their plans about what to do with “the 11 million undocumented people in this country.”
In response, Mitt Romney said:
My own view is those 11– 11 million people should register the fact that they’re here in the country. They should be given some transition period of time to allow them to– settle their affairs and then return home and get in the– in line at the back of the line with everybody else that wants to come here….So, from my view– viewpoint, the key– the key measure is this: No favoritism for permanent residency or citizenship for those that have come here illegally.
However, the “line” that Romney is referring to simply doesn’t exist – hence the very need for comprehensive immigration reform in the first place.
Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich continues to poll as the front runner despite the supposed damage his half-step toward a reasonable immigration position was supposed to incur. For example, former Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO) wrote in a POLITICO op-ed, “if Republican voters learn the truth about Gingrich’s immigration policies, he may well face the same fate” as Rick Perry, while William Gheen, president of the extreme anti-immigrant Americans for Legal Immigration PAC, said Gingrich’s campaign “will now take the ‘Perry plunge’”. However, it hasn’t turned out that way, as polling from last week showed that Gingrich’s immigration positions were most trusted by likely Iowa Republican caucus-goers. At Saturday’s debate, Gingrich continued to promote his narrow “red card” proposal for a small number of undocumented immigrants, while redoubling his commitment to enforcement and making “deportation dramatically easier.” Meanwhile, the remainder of the candidate field was united in its vision of an enforcement-only immigration stance.
There’s no question that the Republican candidates are out of step with the public on immigration. In fact, with the possible exception of Gingrich, the candidates are out of step with most Republican voters. The more they try to explain their policy position, the more clear it is that they are appealing to a small sliver of the electorate that is far from a majority in the early primary states, and shooting themselves in the foot for the general election. When it comes to immigration, the American public is way out in front of the Republican field.