Americans Conflicted Over Obama’s Immigration Order
Policy + Politics

Americans Conflicted Over Obama’s Immigration Order

As the administration and congressional Republican leaders grapple over President Obama’s executive order temporarily granting nearly five million illegal immigrants protection from deportation, American voters seem conflicted.

On one hand, a substantial majority have long favored a major overhaul of the patchwork immigration laws that would provide illegal immigrants with a path to legal status or citizenship – a warning to the new GOP Congress that voters are growing impatient with legislative inaction.

On the other hand, many Americans – including some Hispanics -- are just not sure Obama’s preemptive strike last week was the way to go.

Related: GOP Fuels Fears of Job Losses from Obama’s Immigration Order   

Less than a week after the president unveiled his controversial executive order in a nationally televised speech, the early polling returns suggests a public wrestling with its views on the controversy. Regardless of what the polls are showing, GOP leaders vow to move ahead with a range of tactics that potentially could lead to another government shutdown in order to block implementation.

“Republicans in Congress understand that a majority of Americans and a majority of Republicans believe we have a seriously broke immigration system that needs to be fixed and they’ve understood that for a long time,” said Whit Ayres, a prominent GOP campaign strategist.

“But there is unanimity that the president’s administrative or executive action is illegitimate and goes well beyond anything that’s ever been done by any other president in the past – and will make it harder to get long-term comprehensive immigration reform.”

A new nationwide survey by the Hart Executive Research Associates for Americans United For Change, a Democratic leaning group, found that likely voters favor Obama’s executive action by a margin of 67 percent to 28 percent.  

Related: Obama May Have Tied the GOP’s Hands on Immigration

The survey described Obama’s unilateral action as an effort to focus immigration enforcement on threats to national security rather than law-abiding people and allow some illegal immigrants to stay and work in the United States. More than 90 percent of Democrats surveyed and 67 percent of political independents said they favored such action, while 51 percent of Republicans in the poll said they opposed the executive action.

President Obama’s immigration executive order has infuriated Republicans who wanted a chance to deal with immigration reform when they take control of the Senate in January. Instead of cooperation and an end to gridlock in Washington, Obama may have ignited a new war between Republicans and the White House that will surely stymie progress and possibly become an issue in the 2016 presidential campaign. The temporary order will expire in 2017 unless Congress acts or the next Democratic or Republican president renews the executive action.

Not surprisingly, Hispanics were largely ecstatic with the president’s action, after more than a year of inaction by House Republicans who refused to take up the broad bipartisan immigration overhaul that was approved by the Senate last year. A new poll released yesterday by Latino Decisions, a prominent polling and research group, shows that 89 percent of Latino voters support Obama’s action.

In this case, the question posed was prefaced with the fact that Congress had many chances to pass an immigration bill and failed, and that now Obama has enacted an executive order to provide relief from deportation for law-abiding undocumented immigrants who have been in this country for more than five years. 

By contrast, an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released last Wednesday showed that a plurality of Americans do not support Obama’s plan to take unilateral executive action on illegal immigrants, 48 percent to 38 percent. Moreover, many Hispanic voters were divided over the issue. According to the poll, 43 percent of Latinos supported the president, while 37 percent were opposed.  

NBC News acknowledged that the sample size of Latino respondents was small – just 110 – and that may have skewed the results. Moreover, the poll question opened with an explanation that “executive orders are actions taken by a president that can put some regulations into effect that do not require Congressional approval.” 

Related: Obama Defends His Executive Action on Immigration 

“I certainly think there are several ways you can ask the question which make a difference in the sort of answer you get,” explained Mark Hugo Lopez, director of Hispanic research at the Pew Research Center. 

Matt A. Barreto, co-founder of the Latino Decisions, said that most Hispanics he has interviewed think Obama was “extremely generous” in giving Congress several years to act on immigration reform before issuing his order. He largely discounted the significance of 18 percent of Hispanics polled opposing the president’s action, noting that a small minority of Hispanics are allied with Republicans.

“So we don’t see a lot of disappointment,” Barreto said. “We don’t see too many people saying this wasn’t good enough. I think people recognize there are some limits on what he can do through executive orders and that it is the job of Congress to do this.”

Related: Voters Know What We Should Do on Immigration

From a political standpoint, Barreto believes that the president’s order will galvanize Hispanic voters in the 2016 election, unlike their lackluster turnout in the Nov. 4 midterm election after Obama decided to postpone his executive order until after the election. Some analysts think that decision cost the Democrats at least one of the eight Senate seats they lost to the GOP – in Colorado, with its large Hispanic population.

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