In the debate about the influx of young illegal immigrants from Central America, a 2008 measure addressing undocumented minors — passed with unanimous consent in Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush — is getting a lot of attention.
It seems that, no matter where the immigration debate heads, comparisons to efforts last decade will follow.
A major reason that comparison keeps coming up is because Congress keeps failing -- as it did then -- to pass much of anything. But we know Congress hasn't changed. The question is: Have the American people? Are Americans more ready for immigration reform now than they were seven years ago?
On the surface, it looks like opinion on immigration is pretty similar to what it was in 2007 and 2008. About the same number of people favor immigration as did in 2007, per the Gallup study below.
However, if you drill down into the demographics, it's clear that the opposition remains pretty hardened, and the support that exists just isn't enough -- in passion or number -- to overcome it.
In May 2007, a New York Times/CBS News poll found that 62 percent of Americans thought illegal immigrants should be allowed to apply for legal status after two years. Thirty-three percent of respondents thought they should be deported. Sixty-one percent thought illegal immigration was a very serious issue for the country.
In March 2014, the same poll found that 56 percent of Americans thought illegal immigrants should be allowed to apply for legal status. Twenty-nine percent favored deportation. However, 42 percent of Republicans favored deportation. Perhaps more important for the politicians tiptoeing around this issue — especially after watching former Florida governor Jeb Bush and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) face backlash for their immigration stances — 52 percent of Americans said in a February NYT/CBS poll that they wouldn't vote for a person who disagreed with them on immigration.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll in June 2007 found that Republicans and those older than 55 were the least supportive of a pathway to citizenship. A February 2014 poll from The Post showed that 45 percent of Republicans would be more likely to vote against a candidate who supported a pathway to citizenship.
In 2006, a Time magazine poll found that 47 percent of Americans favored deporting all illegal immigrants — a policy that President George W. Bush called "unrealistic." Last year, Americans were agreeing with Bush. A Pew Research Center poll had 76 percent of Republicans and 80 percent of Democrats saying deporting all illegal immigrants was unrealistic. However, the same poll had 67 percent of tea party Republicans saying that undocumented immigrants should only be allowed to apply for legal status after the borders are secured.
In June 2007, a much fought-over immigration reform bill did not make it through the Senate — a bit of unsurprising election-year deja vu. Right before the measure died, the Pew Research Center released a poll on Americans' understanding of the legislation and their views about potential policies. Across ideologies, respondents favored giving undocumented immigrants a way to gain citizenship. Most Americans — everyone except conservative Republicans -- also favored amnesty.
More recent polls, again, show that Republican support for offering citizenship is drifting, or that opposition is cementing.
In February 2014, 32 percent of Republicans thought undocumented immigrants should be able to apply for citizenship. Twenty-five percent of tea party Republicans thought citizenship applications were a good idea for undocumented immigrants, while 41 percent thought they should not be allowed to stay legally.
In June 2014, the Public Religion Research Institute released a poll on opinions about immigration policy. Democrats still favored citizenship at high levels, but conservative Republican support had vanished when other options were offered.
Thirty-seven percent of tea party members polled by PRRI favored offering citizenship opportunities. Another 37 percent favored increased deportation. Only a bare majority of Republicans favored offering citizenship. The change in policy mirrors the changes in the debate. If passing an immigration-reform bill in 2008 looked impossible — with a Republican president — it looks especially unlikely now with the midterm elections creeping closer. Headstones have been popping up for comprehensive immigration reform all over the Internet in the past few months.
However, a Pew Research Center poll showed that despite worries about these policies, Republicans thought that supporting them could help them come election time.
Republicans — especially conservative Republicans, who have proved especially effective barriers to comprehensive anything in the Senate — seem to be drifting away from pathways to citizenship and toward more deportation — or at least talking about immigration as little as possible (something that has been clear in how politicians have discussed the issue in the past week).
Even if there is broad support for change, it hasn't grown any stronger in the past six years. And in 2008, that support wasn't enough to lead to comprehensive changes. It seems like little more than piecemeal changes are likely to happen anytime soon.