The Common Good

More than Six in Ten Americans Support Pathway to Citizenship for Immigrants

More than six in ten Americans support a pathway to citizenship for immigrants, a survey out today from the Public Religion Research Institute finds.

Immigrants' rights activists stand on the National Mall. Photo courtesy Ryan Rodrick Beiler/shutterstock.com

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Pulling from one of the largest poll sample sizes in their history, PRRI conducted in-depth polling with more than 4,500 Americans, across economic, religious, ethnic, gender, and generational lines. 

Their findings: 63 percent of Americans support a path to citizenship, including a majority of Republicans, Independents, and Democrats, and majorities among every major religious group.

Support for citizenship within faith communities ranges from 56 percent among white evangelical Protestants to 73 percent among Hispanic Catholics. In fact, the only major group without a majority in support is the Tea Party.

“Proponents of immigration reform are unlikely to find a more favorable moment [in the political climate] than now,” said EJ Dionne, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and a columnist at the Washington Post, as part of a survey panel this morning.

The support for citizenship among Republicans may be surprising to many. But according to the survey findings, about four in ten Republicans think their party’s position on immigration has hurt the party in recent elections. And when given with the options of citizenship or deportation, a “hybrid” option — permitting immigrants to become legal residents but not citizens — is the least popular option even among Republicans, suggesting if compromise legislation is reached, it will largely be without real support.

Of the self-deportation idea touted by former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Robert P. Jones, CEO of PRRI, said the option was “substantially opposed” by all Americans. 

“It’s important to note that Republican politicians [vocally in favor of citizenship] are not off on their own,” added Dionne. “They are reflecting values in their own coalition and at the grassroots.”

Indeed, the panel stressed, political rhetoric is not always the best guide to legislation. What we hear on the stump “may be over-representing degree of opposition to citizenship, even in the red states,”Jones said.

The panel pointed out that the most commonly used secular reasoning for immigration reform (the nation’s heritage as a land of immigrants) and the most common values-based argument (faith groups’ “Welcome the Stranger” language) resonate strongly in immigrant-heavy urban areas like New York, and faith communities, respectively; but they rank lowest with respondents overall on the list of values guiding opinions on immigration and citizenship. 

Instead, top answers reflect — according to Jones — “Rand Paul’s language of ‘prudence’ and ‘compassion.’” Those values include: keeping families together, tax fairness, national security, and the rule of law.

The survey also indicates that generational trends and belief biases continue to hold strong. When asked about groups who were changing the United States for better or for worse, 38 percent of respondents said immigrants are changing the U.S. for the better (as opposed to 28 percent for the worse). This ranks slightly below the highest group, youth, at 43 percent, and well above the lowest, atheists, at 10 percent.

Brookings Senior Fellow William Galston called the survey “extraordinary,” a “goldmine” of information that “allows for a much more granular picture of change in our nation.”

Read the full report here.

Catherine Woodiwiss is Associate Web Editor with Sojourners.

 

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