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The Right Question on Immigration Reform: How Do We End Illegal Immigration?

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CNN Poll Asks the Wrong Question, Fails to Advance a Solution

Washington, DC – A new poll from CNN/Opinion Research Corporation finds that two-thirds of Americans say we “should not make it easier for illegal immigrants to become citizens,” with only a third disagreeing with that assertion.  But in order for policymakers to truly understand where the American people are on the immigration issue, pollsters need to ask the right questions. 

The CNN poll asks an out-of-context, stand alone question that has nothing to do with the current debate over how to end illegal immigration.  The question asked and answered by comprehensive immigration reform is not do you want to make citizenship “easier” to obtain, but how do you want Congress and the President to deal with the 12 million undocumented immigrants in our country today?  Do you want to require undocumented immigrants to undergo background checks, pay taxes, and study English in order to become legal and work toward citizenship, or do you want to continue to try to deport them all and hope that enforcement alone will eventually restore control?   

Poll after independent poll shows strong support for comprehensive immigration reform that requires undocumented immigrants to legalize their status and pay taxes on their way to becoming full U.S. citizens, because voters believe this is a tough, fair, and practical solution,” said Lynn Tramonte, deputy director of America’s Voice. “Comprehensive immigration reform is about restoring control and order to the broken system in a way that works for Americans, not just immigrants.  That is why reform is consistently popular in so many legitimate opinion surveys, and why the poorly-worded question from CNN should be discarded.  It’s simply not relevant to the choices policymakers in Washington must make. 

“Americans are looking for real leadership on the immigration issue from Congress and the President.  They want a solution that will end illegal immigration and restore the rule of law, on our terms.  That solution—according to real voters–is comprehensive immigration reform.”

Recent public opinion research has been extremely consistent when it comes to tracking voters’ attitudes about comprehensive immigration reform:

  • Voters Nationwide Support Immigration Reform – Even in a Down Economy (December 2009 by Benenson Strategy Group for America’s Voice):  65% supported congressional action on immigration reform in 2010; 55% said that the poor economy makes it more crucial that Congress address immigration reform vs. 42% who believed it was not the right time; and by a 67% to 28% margin, voters preferred that undocumented immigrants take steps to become legal taxpayers over an option to deport them because they are “taking jobs.”  Support for reform cut across party lines, with 69% of Democrats, 67% of independents, and 62% of Republicans supporting comprehensive reform.
  • Americans Reject Mass-Deportation Plans, Despite Desire for Illegal Immigration to Decline (October 2009 by Opinion Research Corporation for CNN):  The poll found that 73% of Americans wanted illegal immigration reduced, while 3% wanted it increased and 22% wanted it to stay the same.  But only half of those who want it reduced—37% of the entire sample—said mass deportation was the way to accomplish the goal.  The only other means to reduce illegal immigration is comprehensive immigration reform.   
  • In Swing Congressional Districts, Voters Support Immigration Reform and Candidates Who Favor Reform (June 2009 by Benenson Strategy Group for America’s Voice and Center for American Progress Action Fund in Idaho 1st CD (Rep. Minnick); AL 2nd CD (Rep. Bright); and CA 3rd CD (Rep. Lungren):   A majority of voters in these districts supported comprehensive immigration reform and candidates who support reform.  About two-thirds of respondents in these districts supported comprehensive immigration reform when asked generically (65% in ID-1, 65% in AL-2 and 67% in CA-3), while support climbed to nearly 90% after the details of comprehensive reform were explained (88% in ID-1, 87% in AL-2, and 83% in CA-3).  Respondents were also more likely to support Congressional candidates who championed comprehensive reform rather than those who opposed it (85% in ID-1, 83% in AL-2, 79% in CA-3).
  • Support For Pathway To Citizenship Rose Over Past Few Years Among Multiple PollsFor example, in a May 2009 by Pew Research Center poll, 63% of respondents supported a pathway to citizenship, up 5 percentage points from a 2007 Pew poll;  in a poll from April 2009 by Washington Post-ABC News, 61% of respondents supported a program to give illegal immigrants in the U.S. the right to live here legally after paying fines and meeting other requirements, up 9 and 12 percentage points from two 2007 polls by the same polling organizations; and an April 2009 by New York Times / CBS poll found that 44% of respondents supported a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, 21% believed that they should be given temporary legal status, and 30% believed they should be required to leave the country, vs. December 2007 NYT/CBS findings in which 38% of respondents chose a path to citizenship, 28% chose temporary status and 28% chose removal.

Roundup of American Public Opinion on Immigration Reform:  http://americasvoiceonline.org/pages/polls_show_most_americans_support_comprehensive_immigration_reform.

America’s Voice — Harnessing the power of American voices and American values to win common sense immigration reform.