Publication / DecodeDC/ Scripps
July 2, 2014
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Congress might be over immigration reform, but the public still supports it

Majority of Americans support path to citizenship

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Immigration reform may be dead in this Congress, but for a majority of U.S. citizens a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants is still heavily supported.

The public’s views of immigrants are positive on the whole, a new study by the Pew Research Center shows. According to the June 26 report, the public supports a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants by a three-to-one margin.

Of the seven groups polled, which included steadfast conservatives, young outsiders, solid liberals and hard-pressed skeptics, six of the seven polled said they favor a pathway to citizenship for immigrants here illegally as long as certain requirements are met.

Steadfast Conservatives Only Typology Group to Not Back Path to Citizenship

Only the steadfast conservatives do not overwhelmingly support a path to citizenship. About 49 percent of that group believes immigrants now living in the United States should not be eligible for citizenship, and 50 percent say they should.

But the public’s feelings aren’t currently represented in the halls of Congress.

Following a rallying push by congressional leadership to pass an immigration reform bill last year– it made it through the Senate but never made it to a vote in the House — comprehensive immigration legislation has long been considered dead.

And the shocking defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va, in his June primary provided the nail to the coffin.

Cantor’s embrace of even piecemeal immigration proposals was largely seen as one of the last hopes for the reform effort. It is now unclear who will champion the cause after he leaves.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is perhaps the most obvious alternative but he refused to support the Senate bill last year. The House has yet to bring its own bill to the floor for a vote.

New reports of an influx of children crossing the border alone illegallyhave brought immigration reform back to the spotlight.

President Barack Obama made a statement Monday about immigration and berated Congress for its lack of action on the issue.

At the briefing Obama said, “Our country and our economy would be stronger today if House Republicans had allowed a simple yes-or-no vote on this bill or, for that matter, any bill.”

He continued, “If Congress will not do their job at least we can do ours.”

Although the president vowed to use executive actions to redirect immigration enforcement efforts to the border, he provided few details.

Yet there is still a lack of consensus surrounding what route immigration reform should take.

There are multiple directions reform efforts could go: Would it eventually grant all immigrants the right to become a citizen? Would it only allow those who came here as children the ability to become legal? Would it reconsider the DREAM Act and let those with college degrees obtain citizenship? Or should it limit all illegal immigrants from obtaining any citizenship and instead grant them work permits or cards as permanent legal residents?

For the public, studies find that opinions often fall along party lines.

A survey on “Religion, Values, and Immigration Reform” by the Brookings Institution released June 10 found that opinions vary regarding the best route for reform.

Graphic courtesy Brookings Institution

A majority of those polled from all political groups, except the tea party movement, supported an immigration policy that would allow undocumented immigrants “a way to become citizens provided they meet certain requirements.” Yet about 20 percent of each group supported the in-between category, which would devise a policy to allow immigrants to become permanent legal residents, but not citizens.

The tea party had the greatest percentage of respondents who supported the option to identify and deport illegal immigrants. (Essentially the no immigration reform route.)

In his remarks, Obama conceded what many already knew – that immigration reform legislation will not pass this year. If you ask most members of Congress they will say it’s unlikely to happen before Obama leaves office.

Yet, the ongoing crisis at the border will likely influence the final determination. How the federal government responds to the situation will prove whether immigration reform can rise from the dead or if it’s gone for good.