Despite the ups and downs of the prospects for comprehensive immigration reform in Congress, public support for a path to citizenship for immigrants currently living in the United States illegally has remained steady throughout 2013. Immigration reform has continued to receive bipartisan and cross-religious support, remaining one of those rare issues that largely transcends such divisions.
PRRI’s newly released report, What Americans (Still) Want from Immigration Reform, finds that today, 63 percent of Americans favor providing a way for immigrants who are currently living in the United States illegally to become citizens provided they meet certain requirements; 14 percent support allowing them to become permanent legal residents but not citizens; and roughly 1-in-5 (18 percent) favor a policy that would identify and deport all immigrants living in the United States illegally. This support for a path to citizenship has remained unchanged from earlier this year, when in both March and August 2013 an identical number (63 percent) supported a path to citizenship for immigrants currently living in the United States illegally.
The survey finds all major political groups currently favor creating a path to citizenship, including roughly 6-in-10 Republicans (60 percent) and independents (57 percent) and more than 7-in-10 (73 percent) Democrats. Majorities of all major religious groups also support a path to citizenship, including white evangelical Protestants (55 percent), white mainline Protestants (60 percent), Catholics (62 percent), minority Protestants (69 percent), and the religiously unaffiliated (64 percent).
Despite this strikingly broad support in the public, prospects for comprehensive immigration reform legislation that includes a path to citizenship look dim. Earlier in the month, House Speaker Boehner drew a hard line, saying, “We have no intention of ever going to conference on the Senate bill.” But late last week, he softened his stance by saying that immigration reform was “absolutely not” a dead issue, and indicated that the House would consider a more piecemeal than comprehensive approach.
The fine line Boehner is walking is likely being drawn with one eye on the conservative Tea Party base, which is more opposed to immigration reform than mainstream Republicans, and the other eye on the future of the GOP. The Republican National Committee’s own post mortem on the 2012 presidential election concluded that the future of the party depends on better performance among Hispanics, the fastest-growing group of voters in the country. In the 2012 vote, this key group comprised 10 percent of voters and overwhelmingly supported Democratic candidates.
If the Republican-controlled House does nothing on immigration reform, it could mean trouble down the road in winning over this key group. Notably, Hispanic Americans (55 percent) are significantly more likely than both white Americans (38 percent) and black Americans (39 percent) to say immigration policy should be an immediate priority for President Obama and Congress. And in PRRI’s September 2013 Hispanic Values Survey, most (54 percent), Hispanic likely voters said they would be less likely to vote for a political candidate who opposes immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for immigrants currently living in the United States illegally.
Although most expect the effect of the Hispanic vote in 2014 mid-term elections to be modest overall, the Hispanic vote may play a pivotal role in several districts. Pro-immigration reform advocates have begun stepping up efforts to target those who have opposed immigration reform legislation, pushing out Spanish-language political ads in nine districts with GOP incumbents. Whether or not there are short-term consequences for the Republican Party in 2014, blocking action on legislation that majorities of their own party members and the nation support may be difficult to explain to already skeptical Hispanic voters heading into 2016.
Image courtesy of Vince Alongi.