A new National Journal poll does us all a public service by offering respondents a full range of options to choose from when it comes to what should be done about immigration. The results are revealing:
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 to do with this bill:
Pass the Senate bill as is: 29
Toughen border-security provisions: 30
Eliminate citizenship for illegal immigrants: 13
Not pass any immigration legislation: 20
And so a large majority, 59 percent, favor acting on the Senate bill as is or with tougher border security provisions. Only 13 percent favor passing it without citizenship — the preferred option of many Republican officials — and only a total of 33 percent prefer passing reform without citizenship or doing nothing at all.
But…but…but…House Republicans in safe districts only answer to their own voters, and GOP voters don’t want any action, right? Wrong. According to this poll, here is how Republican voters break down on this range of options:
Pass the Senate bill as is: 18
Toughen border security provisions: 42
Eliminate citizenship for illegal immigrants: 16
Not pass any immigration legislation: 16
And so a majority of Republicans, a total of 60 percent, favors passing the Senate bill — with citizenship in it — when you include the whopping 42 percent of them who support this as long as you toughen border security provisions. By contrast, only 32 percent of them favor passing the Senate bill without citizenship or doing nothing at all.
Here’s why this is important. Polls such as today’s WaPo/ABC survey that offer just a straight choice — do you favor a path to citizenship or don’t you — find majorities of Republicans oppose citizenship. But offer them the true range of options on the table and you find they want Congress to act on reform, including a path to citizenship, as long as border enforcement is beefed up. That’s what the bipartisan House “gang of seven” bill is expected to do, but we’re already being told House Republicans won’t accept this, because their voters will never accept it.
It’s been widely accepted at face value that House Republicans can’t support comprehensive immigration reform because they will face a massive backlash from their voters and even will face primaries and all but certain political destruction. (Buzzfeed’s John Stanton has been one of the few to challenge this conventional wisdom.) But is it even true? The above poll suggests a solid majority of Republicans want action on reform, even including citizenship under certain conditions. and that only a minority of Republicans support reform without citizenship or no action at all.
The idea that Republican voters won’t stand for anything approaching comprehensive immigration reform is shaping the entire immigration debate. Can’t some crack polling guru type get to the bottom of whether it’s even true or not?