On Immigration Reform, Congress is Divided; the Public is Not

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October 17, 2014

It has been three months since the Senate, in a strong bipartisan vote, passed a broad immigration reform bill that updates our legal immigration system, adds significant resources for border and interior immigration enforcement, and provides a process by which undocumented immigrants in the U.S. may earn legal status and eventual citizenship.

During the August recess, members of Congress, at home in their districts, had an opportunity to gauge public support for immigration reform that, like the Senate’s bill, includes a path to citizenship, with conditions, for undocumented immigrants. At every opportunity—at “town hall” meetings and in other venues, supporters of reform made their voices heard.

Public Support for Path to Citizenship

Still, leaders in the House have been ambivalent towards reform, and there appears to be more division in Congress than there is in the public at large. Public opinion surveys conducted during the course of spring and summer have shown unflagging support from a majority of Americans for a legalization process similar to that contained in the Senate bill. Depending on how much detail is included in describing the proposal to allow undocumented immigrants to stay, support has ranged from a little more than a majority to more than 80%. In general, the more a poll question describes the requirements of the Senate bill, the more the public supports the proposed path to citizenship.

    • Quinnipiac University (July 28 to 31, of 1,468 registered voters): “As you may know, the U.S. Senate recently voted to pass legislation reforming the immigration system. The bill would allow illegal immigrants already in the country to become citizens after 13 years if they pay a fine and learn English. The bill would also double the number of border patrol agents, and double the amount of fencing along the Mexican border. In general, do you support or oppose this bill? (Support: 64%)
    • Public Policy Polling (July 26 to 27, of 700 registered voters): “There is bipartisan immigration reform legislation being debated in Washington. The bill would secure our borders, block employers from hiring undocumented immigrants, and make sure that undocumented immigrants already in the U.S. with no criminal record register for legal status. If a long list of requirements is met over more than a decade, it provides eligibility for a path to citizenship. Would you support or oppose this proposal?” (Total support: 73%)
    • America’s Voice/Latino Decisions (July 20 to 23, of 800 Latino voters in 24 competitive congressional districts represented by incumbent Republicans): “Congress is considering different ideas to include in the immigration reform bill. … One plan would increase border security and enforcement of our existing immigration laws, require employers to verify that all employees have legal status, and provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, as long as they pass a background check, study English, and pay a fine. Do you strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose this immigration plan?” (Total support: 78%)
    • CBS News (July 18 to 22, of 1,036 adults): “Would you favor or oppose providing a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants in the U.S. if they met certain requirements including a waiting period, paying fines and back taxes, passing criminal background checks, and learning English? (Favor: 78%)
    • Washington Post/ABC News (July 10 to 14, of 1,004 adults): “Overall, do you support or oppose a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants now living in the United States?” (Support: 55%)
    • United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection (July 11 to 14, of 1,002 adults): “As you may know, the U.S. Senate recently voted to pass legislation reforming the immigration system. The bill would double the number of border patrol agents, double the amount of fencing along the Mexican border, and allow immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally to become citizens after 13 years if they pay a fine and learn English. The House of Representatives is now considering what to do with this bill. Which describes what you would like the House to do?” (Eliminate the provisions providing citizenship for illegal immigrants and then pass the bill: 13%)
    • Latino Decisions and Hart Research (July 8 to 12, of 600 Latino voters): “In your opinion, how high a priority should it be for Congress to pass immigration reform legislation that includes an earned path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants?” (High or very high priority: 69%)
    • Quinnipiac University (June 28 to July 8, of 2,014 registered voters): “Which comes closest to your view about illegal immigrants who are currently living in the United States? A) They should be allowed to stay in the United States and to eventually apply for US citizenship. B) They should be allowed to remain in the United States, but not be allowed to apply for U.S. citizenship. C) They should be required to leave the U.S.” (Should be allowed to stay in U.S. and apply for citizenship: 54%)
    • Basswood Research (July 8, of 1,000 voters with a history of voting in Republican primaries) Among the key findings of this poll: 65% of Republican voters support a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants if it is coupled with substantially increased border security, and another 8% support a pathway to citizenship even without extra border security.
    • Public Policy Polling (July 5 – 7, of varying number of voters in seven competitive congressional districts in California, Colorado, Minnesota, Nevada and New York): “Do you support or oppose an immigration reform plan that ensures undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. pay a penalty, learn English, pass a criminal background check, pay taxes, and wait a minimum of thirteen years before they can be eligible for citizenship?” (Support: ranging from a high of 77% in California’s 21st Congressional district to a low of 65% in California’s 31st district)
    • Gallup Poll (June 13 – July 5, of 4,373 adults): “Would you favor or oppose each of the following as part of legislation to address the issue of illegal immigration?” (Allowing illegal immigrants to become citizens: 88%)
    • Gallup Poll (June 15 – 16, of 1,015 adults): “Would you vote for or against a law that would allow illegal immigrants living in the U.S. the opportunity to become citizens after a long waiting period if they paid taxes and a penalty, pass a criminal background check, and learn English?” (Vote for: 87%)
    • Pew Research Center and USA Today Poll (June 12 – 16, of 1,512 adults): “Which comes closer to your view about how to handle undocumented immigrants who are now living in the U.S.?” (There should be a way for them to stay in the country legally, if certain requirements are met: 71%)
    • CNN/ORC International Poll (June 11 – 13, of 1,014 adults): “The U.S. Senate is considering an immigration bill that would attempt to increase border security and create a path to citizenship for many immigrants who are in this country without permission from the U.S. government. Based on what you have read or heard about this bill, do you favor or oppose it?” (Favor: 51%)
    • Fox News Poll (June 9 – 11, of 1,019 registered voters): “Do you favor or oppose allowing the 11 million illegal immigrants currently in the country to remain in the country and eventually — years down the road — qualify for U.S. citizenship, as long as they meet certain requirements like paying back taxes, learning English, and passing a background check?” (Support: 74%)
    • Bloomberg Poll (May 31 – June 2, of 1,002 adults): “For each of the following elements that might be part of a new law, please tell me if you favor or oppose it as part of an immigration bill: Allowing Immigrant living in the country illegally to become citizens, provided they don’t have criminal records, they pay fines and back taxes, and they wait more than 10 years.” (Support: 74%)
    • NBC News-Wall Street Journal Poll (May 30 – June 2, 2013, of 1,000 adults): “If a proposed pathway to citizenship allowed foreigner staying illegally in the United States the opportunity to eventually become legal American citizens, would you strongly favor, somewhat favor, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose this proposal?” (Strongly or somewhat favor: 52%)
    • Quinnipiac University Poll (May 22 – 28, of 1,419 registered voters): “Which comes closest to your view about illegal immigrants who are currently living in the United States? A) They should be allowed to stay in the United States and to eventually apply for US citizenship. B) They should be allowed to remain in the United States, but not be allowed to apply for U.S. citizenship. C) They should be required to leave the U.S.” (Stay and apply for citizenship: 54%)
    • Washington Post-ABC News Poll (May 16 – 19, of 1,001 adults): “Would you support or oppose a program giving undocumented immigrants now living in the United States the right to live here legally if they pay a fine and meet other requirements?” (Support: 58%)
    • Pew Research Center for People & the Press (May 1 – 5, of 1,504 adults): “Which comes closer to your view about how to handle immigrants who are now living in the U.S. illegally?” (“There should be a way for those who meet certain requirements to stay in the country legally.” 73%)
    • Quinnipiac University Poll (April 25 – 29, of 1,471 registered voters): “Which comes closest to your view about illegal immigrants who are currently living in the United States? (A) They should be allowed to stay in the United States and to eventually apply for U.S. citizenship. (B) They should be allowed to remain in the United States, but not be allowed to apply for U.S. citizenship. (C) They should be required to leave the U.S.” (Stay and apply for citizenship: 52%)
    • CBS News/New York Times Poll (April 24 – 28 of 965 adults): “Would you favor or oppose providing a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants in the U.S. if they met certain requirements, like paying fines and back taxes, passing criminal background checks and learning English?” (Favor: 83%)
    • Fox News (April 20 – 22, of 1,009 registered voters): “Do you favor or oppose allowing illegal immigrants to remain in the country and eventually qualify for U.S. citizenship, as long as they meet certain requirements like paying back taxes, learning English, and passing a background check?” (Favor: 78%)
    • USA Today Poll (April 18 – 21, of 1,002 adults): “Do you favor or oppose creating a way for illegal immigrants already here to become citizens if they meet certain requirements?” (Favor: 71%)
    • AP-GfK Poll (April 11 – 15, of 1,003 adults): “Do you favor or oppose providing a legal way for illegal immigrants already in the United States to become U.S. citizens?” (Favor: 63%)
    • ABC News/Washington Post Poll (April 11 – 14, of 1,003 adults): “Would you support or oppose a program giving ILLEGAL immigrants now living in the United States the right to live here LEGALLY if they pay a fine and meet other requirements?” (Asked of half the sample. Support: 64%)
    • Gallup Poll (April 9 – 10, of 500 adults): “Suppose that on Election Day you could vote on key issues as well as candidates. Would you vote for or against a law that would allow illegal immigrants living in the United States the chance to become U.S. citizens if they meet certain requirements?” (Would vote for: 69%)
    • CNN/ORC International Poll (April 5 – 7, of 1,012 adults): Allowing undocumented workers to stay in the United States and apply for citizenship if they have been in the country for several years, have a job, and pay back taxes is supported by 84% of the public.
    • NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll (April 5 – 8, of 1,000 adults): “As you may know, there is a proposal to create a pathway to citizenship that would allow foreigners who have jobs but are staying illegally in the United States the opportunity to eventually become legal American citizens. Do you strongly favor, somewhat favor, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose this proposal?” (Total favor: 64%)
    • Quinnipiac University Poll (March 25 – April 1, of 1,711 registered voters): “Which comes closest to your view about illegal immigrants who are currently living in the United States? (A) They should be allowed to stay in the United States and to eventually apply for U.S. citizenship. (B) They should be allowed to remain in the United States, but not be allowed to apply for U.S. citizenship. (C) They should be required to leave the U.S.” (Stay and apply for citizenship: 59%; stay but not allowed citizenship: 11%).
    • ABC News/Washington Post Poll (March 27 – 30, of 1,014 adults): “Overall, do you support or oppose a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants?” (Support: 57%)
    • Fox News (February 25 – 27, of 1,010 registered voters): “Do you favor or oppose allowing illegal immigrants to remain in the country and eventually qualify for U.S. citizenship, as long as they meet certain requirements like paying back taxes, learning English, and passing a background check?” (Favor: 72%)