Conventional wisdom dictates that the Hispanic community in the United States is far more supportive of overhauling the immigration system and allowing those who are in the country illegally to be given a path to citizenship than the population as a whole.
That's right -- sort of. The reality of how Latinos feel about an immigration reform and, specifically, the requirements of a path to citizenship is more complex and worth exploring more deeply as we are just days away from the so-called "Gang of 8" introducing a bipartisan immigration proposal.
Let's start with where the CW is right. Hispanics are more likely than the general population to say that immigration "strengthens" the country rather than weakens it, according to data from a new NBC-Wall Street Journal national poll. (NBC and WSJ did both a traditional national survey and an oversample of Latinos to produce statistically sound results among that community.) And they are far more likely than the broader public to strongly favor (55 percent to 29 percent) the idea of creating some sort of path by which those here illegally can become legal citizens.
But, get beyond the general outlines on immigration and path to citizenship and stereotypes begin to crumble.
Asked how they would feel about a path to citizenship in which undocumented workers would need to "pay a fine, any back taxes, pass a security background check, and take other required steps," 80 percent of Latinos either "strongly" (49 percent) or "somewhat" (31 percent) approve of that approach. But, so do 76 percent of the general public. (Thirty nine percent "strongly" favor it, 36 percent view it "somewhat" favorably.)
The results are similarly similar -- see what we did there -- when people were asked how long undocumented workers should have to wait before being eligible to become legal citizens. Among the general sample and the Latino oversample, a majority (54 percent in both cases) said that five years was the right amount of time to wait. Twenty two percent of Hispanics said undocumented workers should be immediately eligible for citizenship as compared to 18 percent of the overall population; 14 percent of Latinos and of the general public said the waiting period should be 10 years.
Those numbers are remarkable. What they suggest is that when you get down to the nitty gritty of what Latinos want in and out of a path to citizenship, you find that it's not that different from what the broader public wants.
How does that reality impact the coming debate on comprehensive immigration reform? It's hard to know since the loudest voices on both sides have a tendency to highlight where differences exist rather than where agreement lies. But, make no mistake, there is common ground -- or at least a common set of principles -- among a majority of Americans on what a path to citizenship should look like.
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