Despite the American public largely ignoring party lines when it comes to immigration reform, lawmakers don’t appear to have put their differences aside.
A new poll released on Monday found that about two-thirds of Americans favor creating a path to citizenship for the some 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States.
The polling information was released in a report from the Washington, D.C.-based nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute, which examined how Americans’ views on immigration have changed throughout the year, specifically from March to November 2013.
Although 63 percent of Americans favor creating a pathway for citizenship, the poll found that 14 percent favored legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants to become permanent legal residents but not citizens, while 18 percent support a policy that would deport all illegal immigrants.
While not all Americans agree on immigration reform, the PRRI poll found little variation along party lines among those who back citizenship for illegal immigrants, with 60 percent of Republicans, 57 percent of independents and 73 percent of Democrats reporting they favor such a plan.
Despite the American public ignoring party lines for the most part when it comes to its stance on immigration reform, lawmakers don’t appear to have put their differences aside.
President Obama delivered a speech Monday in San Francisco in which he said it’s long past time to fix the broken immigration system and that the only barrier to fixing the issues is the “unwillingness of certain Republicans in Congress to catch up with the rest of the country.”
Despite several immigration bills being approved by the House Judiciary Committee, none have been brought to the GOP-controlled House floor for a vote. The Democratic-controlled Senate on the other hand passed a piece of legislation in June that would have created a 13-year path to citizenship for immigrants who agreed to pay back taxes and fines, which is estimated to cost around $4,000, learn English, and add 20,000 new border agents and 700 miles of new fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Many House Republicans say the reason they have not voted on any immigration reform bills or considered the Senate’s bill is because they would prefer to reform current U.S. immigration policy “piece-by-piece.”
Immigration reform advocates say there is enough support in the House, including from GOP members, to pass a bill, and they blame Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) for failing to take action and opting to not bring any immigration bill to the floor for a vote.
“I believe the speaker is sincere, I think he genuinely wants to get it done,” Obama said Monday. “But it’s going to require some courage. There are some members of the Republican caucus who think this is bad politics for them back home. We can’t leave this problem for another generation to solve,” he said. “If we don’t tackle this now, we’re undercutting our own future.”
In his speech, Obama noted that while the U.S. invites many bright students to study in the U.S., “We don’t invite them to stay….We’re training our own competition rather than invite those incredibly bright young people” to stay and work in the United States. He added that even those undocumented immigrants who haven’t received a higher education simply want the chance to “contribute to the nation that they love.”
Actions speak louder than words
While Obama’s speech contained a lot of support for creating a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, he was heckled during his speech by supporters standing behind him, who pointed out that the Obama administration has deported more immigrants annually than the George W. Bush administration.
South Korean immigrant Ju Hong shouted that he needed Obama’s help and asked the President to use his executive power to stop deportations that tear families apart. In response the President said he was unable to use his executive power on this issue, saying “that’s not how it works. … There is no shortcut to politics. There is no shortcut to democracy. We have to win on the merits of the argument … as laborious as it seems sometimes.
“If, in fact, I could solve all these problems without passing laws in Congress, then I would do so,” Obama said. “But we’re also a nation of laws, that’s part of our tradition. And so the easy way out is to try to yell and pretend like I can do something by violating our laws. And what I’m proposing is the harder path, which is to use our democratic processes to achieve the same goal.”
But Arturo Carmona, executive director of Presente.org, didn’t buy Obama’s pledge to help immigrant families. “The president has the power to halt his destructive deportations and must use it now,” he said. “Until he stops the deportations, we will only escalate against him and his policies further. He can’t fool us anymore.”
Finding the ideal policy
While Americans largely agree that immigration policies need to be altered, there are many differences of opinion when it comes to how the U.S. should reform current policy and when Congress should address the issue.
For example, despite the fact that there is a hunger strike currently occurring throughout the nation by immigration-reform advocates, who have pledged not to eat until Congress passes a new immigration law, the PRRI poll found that only about 41 percent of Americans believe immigration policy should be addressed immediately.
When it comes to the policy itself, the PRRI researchers found that although immigration reform policy is complex and continues to evolve, some key components that have been in almost every piece of proposed legislation includes: specific requirements immigrants must meet as part of a path to citizenship and an increased investment in border security.
To get a better understanding of what facets of immigration reform policy Americans would like to see included in a new policy, the PRRI researchers asked survey participants how they felt about pieces of the immigration bill that the Senate passed earlier this year.
They found that 61 percent of Americans favor the DREAM Act, which would allow children of illegal immigrants to stay in the U.S. as legal residents if they either join the military or go to college.
According to the report, one of the primary sentiments expressed in the focus groups was that any requirements must be significant but also practical and not too onerous that they would serve as a disincentive for moving from illegal to legal status.
The researchers reported that a woman who identified herself as a practicing Catholic from Phoenix said that any legislation has to have incentives for undocumented immigrants if lawmakers want it to be a successful policy. “If I put my hand out and you’re going to slap it no matter what I do, why am I going to put my hand out?” she said.
“I mean, if no matter what I do, you’re going to punish me anyway, why am I going to step forward?”
Although the Senate has proudly boasted that it passed immigration reform legislation, according to the PRRI poll, a majority of Americans actually did not support the components of that legislation.
When it came to the estimated $4,000 per person mandatory fees undocumented immigrants would be charged with, 43 percent of Americans said the fine was too high; 35 percent reported the amount was fair, while 16 percent said they thought the $4,000 fines and fees was too little.
The portion of the law that reportedly elicited some of the strongest reactions from the study’s participants was the waiting period for citizenship. Nearly 7-in-10 reported that the proposed 13-year waiting period for citizenship is too long.
One man, identified as a Catholic man from Columbus, Ohio, said he thought “13 years sounds more like a prison sentence than anything. It should be something like in the three-to-five-year range.”
An evangelical Protestant man from Orlando, Fla., agreed, saying “So [immigrants] get jobs, they get educations, they buy a house, they’re living the American dream, and after 13 years the government says, ‘Well, we decided no.’ So 13 years they’ve lived the dream, and now they’ve just got to give their house up, and the family, the kids they’ve had that have lived here their whole lives?”
The portion of the bill where Americans are most divided is when it comes to the issue of increasing border security by adding 20,000 new border control agents and 700 miles of fencing along the border with Mexico at an estimated cost of $46 billion.
Nearly half (49 percent) are in favor of this proposal, while nearly as many (45 percent) are opposed.
One Catholic man in Columbus, Ohio, who supports increased border security, used the metaphor of building a house to explain why he supported the implementation of additional border patrol agents and fencing before any other facet of the legislation would be put into effect.
“I think the thing that gets me, you know, the maddest is when they want to put up this, ‘Why are you so mean to immigrants?’ [message], they’ll find the picture of the most pathetic banjo-eyed child to use as their image. Would you put carpeting and furniture in a house that doesn’t have windows and a roof? No. You have to have the windows and a roof. You have to have the structure and the order, then you can have all the soft nice wonderful cushy things. Then you can have the fireplace and the fireside and the puppy dogs and the children, but you can’t have that without windows, walls and a roof.
But a Catholic man in Phoenix disagreed and said the amount the government plans to spend on border security is “ridiculous.”
“I think it’s just a waste of money because there are so many areas where the fences can’t go – they can’t affect the national park, they can’t affect an environmental zone, they can’t go through the water… I mean, it’s ridiculous, the idea that we could somehow fence off that border. So knowing that that can’t be done, throwing billions of dollars at it is a complete waste of money.”