National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America


Listening To the Voices Of Immigrants In The Immigration Debate

April 03, 2006

Two Recent Surveys Of Newcomers: Undocumented Immigrants And Legal Immigrants On Record In Support Of Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Washington, DCSergio Bendixen of Bendixen and Associates in Miami, Florida is considered the nation’s preeminent pollster of ethnic and immigrant communities.  Recently, he has completed two unprecedented research projects in immigrant communities regarding immigration reform.  In the first survey, which was sponsored by the Manhattan Institute and the National Immigration Forum, in-depth interviews were conducted in three U.S. cities with undocumented immigrants from Latin America regarding their willingness to come forward to legalize their status.  In the second survey, sponsored by New America Media, an ethnic media consortium based in San Francisco, California, legal immigrants from Latin America, Asia, Africa, and Europe were interviewed about their views regarding the recent policy debate.  The following summary of the key findings has been prepared by the National Immigration Forum.


Percentages of those saying “YES” to the following questions:

·         “If you were able to legalize your status, would you live and work in the U.S. the rest of your life?”  81% say they would.

·         “If the government of the United States approved a new law that would allow the undocumented to legalize their status, would you make an effort to become legal or is it just easier to remain undocumented?”  98% say they would.

·         “Would you be willing to meet the following requirements? Going to a government office and admitting they were here illegally and providing accurate personal information (94% say they would); Being fingerprinted and receiving a criminal background check (96% say they would); Paying a fine of $1000 (91% say they would); Enrolling in a class to learn English (87% say they would); Notifying the government of any change of address (99% say they would); Pay any taxes owed (70% say they would); Prove that they have worked in the United States since they arrived (64% say they would); Pay a $2,000 fine (58%say they would).

·         “If it were possible, would you become a citizen of the United States?” 90% say they would.

In-person interviews were conducted October 11-15, 2005 in Spanish by trained interviewers. A total of 233 interviews were conducted -- 84 in Los Angeles, 82 in Miami, and 67 in Chicago.  The margin of error for the full sample of 233 interviews is 6.5 percentage points.  CLICK HERE to see the presentation of the poll, in PDF format.



·         The immigrant community in the United States is alarmed regarding the tone and substance of the current political debate on immigration policy. Majorities of legal immigrants from Latin America, Asia, Africa and Europe feel that “the anti-immigrant sentiment is growing in the United States.”

·         The overwhelming majority of legal immigrants think that the undocumented “take jobs that legal residents and citizens do not want to do.”  These legal immigrants also feel that the undocumented have a positive impact on the quality of life of Americans and “help the economy by providing low-cost labor.”

·         The McCain-Kennedy proposal was favored by more than three-quarters of legal immigrants from Latin America, three-fifths of those from Africa and Europe and by a majority of those from Asia.  President Bush’s immigration proposal was acceptable to a majority of legal immigrants but was chosen as “the best way to deal with illegal immigration” by only one-fifth of the respondents.  The immigration bill approved by the House of Representatives was favored by less than 10 percent.

·         The major political “actors” in the immigration debate in Washington, D.C. receive fairly low ratings from legal immigrants on the job they have done so far on the immigration issue.  Only about one-fifth of those interviewed gave the Republican Party a positive rating on the way it has handled the debate on this issue.  The U.S. Congress, President George W. Bush, and the Democratic Party do not fare much better, with only about one-third of legal immigrants giving them a positive rating.

These surveys put numbers on the sentiments expressed in the wave of rallies across the country.  Legal immigrants and undocumented immigrants alike are watching.  Their fate depends in part on the fate of legislation before the Congress and the Administration.  Our policy makers would be wise to hear their voices and respond to their aspirations to be fully embraced accepted by the nation they now call home.

Bendixen & Associates interviewed 800 legal immigrants by telephone between February 24 and March 21, 2006.  The sample was designed to be representative of the 26 million legal immigrants that reside in the United States according to the U.S. Census. Approximately three-fifths of the legal immigrants interviewed for the poll are citizens of the United States and about three-fourths of them (citizens) are registered voters.  Link to the full New America Media Report: Legal Immigrants: A Voice of Reason in the Immigration Debate.

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