WASHINGTON – Almost half of Americans say a revision of immigration law would be “mostly good” for the economy, yet, with Senate debate set to begin next week, the public is split on whether Congress should pass a bill.
The divide reflected in the latest Bloomberg National Poll is rooted in partisan rifts and ambivalence among Americans about how U.S. law should treat the estimated 11 million immigrants residing in the country without authorization.
About three-quarters say they favor a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants with no criminal records who pay back taxes and fines, and wait more than a decade, the centerpiece of the pending bill. Almost two-thirds also said they back deporting those already here illegally and sealing the border so no others come in violation of U.S. laws.
“I’m in-between on my feelings about it,” said poll respondent Bryan James, 24, an independent in Ypsilanti, Mich., who said he supports the immigration legislation. “We all want the law to be enforced and I think that’s important, but I believe they should have a chance for citizenship if they’re going to contribute.”
Still, James said he would favor deporting illegal immigrants as part of the bill. “Sneaking across the border – it’s kind of hard to say that’s acceptable. It doesn’t make sense to let people come here and live off the government with no consequences. We have enough people doing that here already,” he said in a follow-up interview.
Public sentiment on the proposed legislation backed by President Barack Obama and a bipartisan group of lawmakers is even more deeply split. Forty-six percent of respondents say they support changing the law and providing a path to citizenship for immigrants who lack legal status, while 45 percent say they oppose that, in the survey conducted May 31 to June 3. That’s a statistically insignificant difference in the telephone survey of 1,002 adults, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
The divide falls largely along partisan lines, with Republicans rejecting the initiative, Democrats favoring it, and independents split, underlining the political stakes for the parties as both sides try to push public opinion their way.
“Republicans in Congress have to get the final agreement pitch perfect to avoid potential primary challenges,” said J. Ann Selzer, owner of Des Moines, Iowa-based Selzer & Company, which conducted the poll.
Republican respondents say they oppose the legislation 65 percent to 26 percent, while Democrats embrace it 63 percent to 30 percent. Independents are evenly divided, with 47 percent in favor and 45 percent opposed.
The finding is striking given that many top Republican officials, stung by their party’s 2012 electoral losses and weak showing among Hispanic voters, now consider supporting a broad immigration revision as a political imperative.
Seventy-one percent of Hispanics, a fast-growing U.S. voting bloc, backed Obama in 2012 over Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who was supported by 27 percent. In the poll, Hispanics by an almost 2-to-1 margin say they back an immigration revision.
The risk for Republican lawmakers is that the party hierarchy’s views haven’t been embraced by the rank-and-file.