State of the Union Immigration Preview: New Poll Indicates You Can Be Specific, Mr. President
January 31, 2006
Washington, DC – While we don’t know what the President will say in his State of the Union address, he is likely to return to the theme of immigration reform, if only for a few vague sentences. The question is, will Bush break new ground and make clear where he stands? A new poll indicates he has more room to articulate his policy priorities than he may think.
Immigration reform is a complex, multifaceted issue. At the center of the debate on effective reform is the challenge on what to do with 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the U.S. illegally. While speaking frequently on immigration reform, the President generally skirts the specifics of this critical topic. A new poll for Time Magazine by Schulman, Ronca, & Bucuvalas, Inc. (SRBI) Public Affairs indicates the President may be selling the American people short in his somewhat tepid and vague support for bold immigration reforms.
Among the findings in the new poll, people are clearly frustrated with illegal immigration and want to see concrete action. They also favor enforcement. At the same time, significantly, Americans are very open to approaches that allow the 11 million undocumented immigrants already here to achieve some form of legal status:
- Three-quarters (76%) favor allowing immigrants in the U.S. illegally access to citizenship if they learn English, have a job and pay taxes;
- Almost three-quarters (73%) favor a program that allows immigrants without papers to get a temporary work visa, with only a quarter (23%) opposing.
“This issue is a complex and emotional one. One the one hand, the American people are frustrated with the breakdown in our laws and wish the problem would just go away. On the other hand, when clear and cooler heads prevail, they are much more practical than politicians think. The American people want workable solutions that address the lack of control America has over immigration and our borders,” said Angela Kelley, Deputy Director of the National Immigration Forum, a non-partisan, pro-immigrant advocacy organization in Washington.
The debate over immigration policy now turns to the Senate, where the Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) is expected to act quickly to craft compromise legislation that incorporates immigration reform proposals put forward by members of both parties. Chief among these are proposals by Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Ted Kennedy (D-MA), Chuck Hagel (R-NE), and Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and John Cornyn (R-TX).
Kelley said she and other pro-immigrant advocates in business, labor, the religious community, and in immigrant communities nationwide are looking for “workable solutions.” “For a plan to be workable it must include:
- A system that lifts the undocumented out of the shadows and onto a path to legality, including permanent residency and citizenship for those who choose it;
- A system that addresses the future flow of workers so they can come with a visa and not with a smuggler;
- Labor protections for current and future workers that ensure fairness for immigrant and native-born workers alike;
- The reduction of family visa backlogs and a commitment to the hundreds of thousands of families currently waiting for up to two decades in the bureaucratic swamp of our current system; and
- Tailored, targeted, and effective enforcement measures that focus on those who wish us harm and those that try to game the system.
“These elements are interdependent. If you try to cherry pick among them, the reform will crash and burn,” Kelley said. “The President has been trying to play both sides of the street on this issue throughout his presidency – appeasing hardliners in his own party by embracing their enforcement-only approach while simultaneously espousing the need for a more comprehensive set of reforms. In many ways, he has been on the sidelines of the policy and political debate, unwilling to expend his political capital in a sustained manner to make definitive progress on the issue,” Kelley continued.
As recently as last week, in remarks at Kansas State University (01/23/06), the President repeated his call for a so-called “guest worker” program that would afford temporary legal status to immigrants here illegally before eventually forcing them to return home. But just last December, the White House bear hugged an enforcement-only House bill, sponsored by Reps. F. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Peter King (R-NY) (H.R. 4437), a punitive and overreaching immigration bill which the Wall Street Journal editorial page dubbed “another bill heavy with border control and business harassment and light on anything that will work in the real world” (12/29/05).
“To exert leadership over his own party and to facilitate real action on this issue, the President needs to get beyond his political timidity,” Kelley concluded. “The American people are desperate for action and can’t understand why their leaders are dragging their feet.”