Immigration dissensus

I recently discussed a Wonkblog guest piece that argued there’s much more consensus on immigration policy that we typically realize.  My friend and colleague, Mike Cobb, took issue with this and wrote it up for the Monkey Cage.   The main problem with the earlier analysis, he argues, is that it focuses entirely on legal immigration rather than what do do about existing illegal immigration.  And that’s where there’s a huge difference between Democrats and Republicans.  When you look at a variety of questions on how to deal with existing illegal immigration, the partisan differences are quite stark (all the bolding below is mine):

 The results not only reveal a consistently large partisan gap about how to manage illegal immigration, but also a solid Republican preference for deportation. To start, a CNN/ORC poll conducted July 16-21, 2010 asked, “What should be the main focus of the U.S. government in dealing with the issue of illegal immigration—developing a plan that would allow illegal immigrants who have jobs to become legal U.S. residents, or developing a plan for stopping the flow of illegal immigrants into the U.S. and for deporting those already here?” Although the question wording fails to isolate deportation as a single option, answers nevertheless reveal fundamentally different priorities among partisans. Three-quarters of Republicans (73%) answered that deportation and stopping the flow should be our priority. Meanwhile, just 39% of Democrats expressed that sentiment.

A TNS Opinion poll for Transatlantic Trends in 2011 asked a similar question. Although it didn’t use the word “deportation,” it isolated the effective equivalent of “requiring illegal immigrants to be returned to their home country.” Similarly, 66% of Republicans, but just 34% of Democrats, said illegal immigrants must be returned home. Furthermore, another question finds that 7 in 10 Republicans don’t believe citizenship should be granted to children of illegal immigrants who are born here (just 36% of Democrats agreed). In light of these data, Governor Romney’s attacks on Gov. Rick Perry as being soft on immigration during the GOP primary make more sense.

To further establish the breadth of the partisan divide, the CNN/ORC survey reveals that 75% of Republicans and just 30% of Democrats favor the immigration law passed in Arizona that was widely condemned by Hispanic interest groups. Likewise, a majority of Republicans support building a 700-mile fence along the border with Mexico (58%), while a majority of Democrats opposes that plan (61%). Finally, the intensity of attitudes also varies. When asked how the number of illegal immigrants made respondents feel, twice as many Republicans as Democrats reported feeling “angry” (32% versus 16%).

Now there’s your start differences that suggest that although there may be consensus on how we reform our laws in terms of prioritizing whom we legally let in, there’s a huge conflict on how to deal with the contemporary issue of illegal immigration.  And let’s be honest, that’s where the real political battle is now.  Here’s Cobb’s conclusion (with which I fully agree):

Yet, even these data demonstrate how deeply divided Americans are about illegal immigration. And if illegal immigration is the pivotal dimension to overall immigration reform, which I think it is, this only underscores the difficult situation Republican leaders find themselves in. Even if the Republican office holders don’t truly favor harsh policies, their voters certainly do.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

One Response to Immigration dissensus

  1. Mike Barr says:

    I’d like to stop granting citizenship to someone just because they are born on US soil. Among developed Western countries only the US and Canada do this. I think it’s a huge draw for illegally immigrating to the US. Get rid of that, but then extend amnesty to people already here, and especially those who came here as children with their parents. This has the benefit of avoiding the deportation of people who are already enmeshed in their communities, granting citizenship to people brought here as children by illegal immigrant parents, and removing a magnet for future illegal immigration.

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