Americans’ views on immigration reform are beginning to harden, with more people now in favor of tightening security along the border than providing many of the 11 million illegal immigrants with a pathway to citizenship or legal status, according to a new Pew Research Center poll.
The national survey of 1,501 adults conducted in late August found that 33 percent agree with congressional Republicans that the focus should be on increased security along the Southwest border and tougher enforcement of existing immigration laws. By contrast, just 23 percent said the top priority should be creating a way for undocumented immigrants to achieve legal status – a goal of President Obama and many Democrats.
About four in 10 Americans say that the government should simultaneously work on enhancing border security and helping illegal immigrants come out of the shadows without the threat of deportation. But the share of the public favoring action on both fronts has declined from 47 percent to 41 percent since February 2013, Pew said.
Not surprisingly, the survey found a wide partisan gap in terms of outlook on an issue that may influence the outcome of the November midterms – and that’s fueling a confrontation between President Obama and congressional Republicans. If there is no legislative compromise on dealing with the waves of illegal immigrants and Central American children who have illegally entered this country, the president had vowed to take unilateral action by the end of summer to protect many illegal immigrants from the threat of deportation – though last week the White House said Obama would likely postpone an executive order until after the November election.
Democrats facing tough reelection battles, however, don’t want the president to hand Republicans another issue to help drive voter turnout.
By a margin of 53 percent to 36 percent, Republicans say the top priority should be tightening border security, while 36 percent say the government should try to do both. By contrast, just 19 percent of Democrats say they are more concerned about border security, while 33 percent favor creating a path to citizenship and 45 percent say both goals of are equal importance.
Among independents or swing voters, 33 percent want tougher border security, 24 percent favor a path to citizenship and 41 percent say they favor both. Hispanics and young Americans strongly favor creating a way for illegal immigrants to become citizens over improved border security.
The Pew survey gives added credence to Democratic concerns that immigration is a losing issue for them in many states. A Politico-George Washington University battleground state poll out this week suggests the House Republicans’ tough stance against any immigration move that hints at “amnesty” for illegal immigrants is increasingly favored by likely voters.
When were asked to grade the two parties on a handful of key issues, likely voters in the Pew poll gave Republicans a seven-point advantage over the Democrats on immigration policy – 48 percent to 41 percent.
Nicole McCleskey, a partner with Public Opinion Strategies, told The Fiscal Times earlier this week that while the immigration issue is a motivator for some voters on the right and left, “Right now I think Republicans have the upper hand on immigration.”
She added, “I think what people see is a lack of leadership on Obama’s part and a promise to address the issue that has fallen by the wayside since his election.
Separate polling by Pew shows that while the flow of illegal immigrants into this country has subsided some in recent years, the millions living here illegally generally have deeper ties to the country than they did 10 years ago. The survey found that roughly half of the 11 million undocumented immigrants have lived in the U.S. for at least 13 years and over a third of them have children here.
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