National Immigration Forum

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Gallup Polling Misses Real Immigration Reform Story

August 06, 2009 - Posted by Douglas Rivlin

A new Gallup poll makes the claim that Americans are taking a “tougher immigration stance” based on a declining number of people in their survey who say that immigration is a good thing for the country and an increasing number who want immigration levels decreased.  The results are helpful in terms of taking the national temperature on the desire to have immigrants here among us and not surprisingly, when the economy is bad, Americans want fewer immigrants. 


Gallup finds Americans less favorable toward immigration than they were a year ago. Half (50%) say immigration should be decreased, up from 39% last year. A third (32%) say immigration levels should be kept the same, down from 39%, and 14% say they should be increased, down from 18%. […]


A similar shift is evident when Americans are asked more broadly whether immigration is a good thing or a bad thing for the country. Currently, 58% say it is a good thing -- the lowest percentage saying so since 2003. The historical low for this measure, 52%, came in 2002, after the 9/11 attacks.


The anti-immigration set will no doubt trumpet this as evidence that we should close the door and deport those here, but they would be dead wrong to draw that conclusion.  American voters have consistently and strongly favored comprehensive immigration reform, despite the fact that – all things being equal – many Americans would like fewer immigrants in their country.


Gallup is asking whether or not people like immigrants, not the more important question at the heart of the immigration reform debate: “what should we do now?” or more precisely, “what should Congress do now?”


Keep the following in mind:


1) The immigration reform debate is not about whether we want more immigration or less immigration; the immigration reform debate is about how much of the immigration that is happening is happening through controlled legal channels. 


The overall level of immigration is a function of our immigration policies, plus the demand for labor in our economy, the demand for legal immigration by families, factors in countries that send immigrants, and numerous other push and pull factors.  We choose how much of that immigration is happening with visas, with background checks, and with full taxation and how much is happening in the black market, untaxed, and with smugglers.  The more our policies take into account the various push and pull factors, the more order and control we have in our immigration system.


2) If we really want to maintain lower levels of immigration, we have to maintain high unemployment and reduce overall economic opportunity.  The American people are decidedly opposed to that, but we are now seeing lower levels of immigration – legal and illegal – because the economy is not growing.


3) Within the group of Americans who would like to see immigration reduced is a core 10-15% who want to see immigration stopped altogether.  They are the tail that has been wagging the national dog. 


An inordinate level of passion against legal and illegal immigration combined with funding, organization, and the megaphone of talk radio and talk TV, has elevated this small slice of the electorate to a place where they have largely controlled the pitch – and often the outcome – of the immigration debate.


But the American people remain a pragmatic lot.  They realize that we are a nation built by and founded by immigrants; that we are a beacon of freedom to refugees; that immigrants will – and should – come here legally in the future; and that we will never deport 12 million immigrants living here illegally.  This is why we still see strong support for practical solutions to our current immigration mess that move us forward, get immigration channeled through controlled legal channels, and makes sure rules are in place and enforced.


That is why all of the polls we have seen continue to show strong support across all demographics, parties, and ideologies for comprehensive immigration reform.


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