The Washington Post

Senate immigration plan wins majority support from public

The Washington Post’s Nia-Malika Henderson hosts a Google Hangout on immigration reform and its tumultuous road ahead in the House. (The Washington Post)

A big majority of Americans supports a Senate-approved surge of manpower and fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. But some recoil at the high costs of implementing the plan, highlighting deep partisan disagreement about whether the effort is worth the cost.

Some 55 percent of Americans also support a “pathway to citizenship” for undocumented immigrants, a result nearly identical to those in three recent Post-ABC polls that asked the same question about “illegal immigrants.”

The bipartisan Senate immigration measure approved last month would establish a 13-year process for millions of undocumented immigrants to eventually seek permanent legal status or U.S. citizenship.

The measure also mandates spending $46 billion to double the size of the U.S. Border Patrol and to construct 700 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border. The stricter border security provisions were added to the bill to ensure sufficient Republican support.

With pressure on the House to take up the issue, President Obama demanded this week that lawmakers include a way for undocumented immigrants to become citizens. But House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) suggested Thursday that those immigrants shouldn’t expect any “special treatment” as Congress overhauls the nation’s immigration laws.

The opinions of Obama and Boehner are reflected in their political bases. While most Democrats (69 percent) support finding ways to grant citizenship, 58 percent of Republicans oppose a path to citizenship. Most independents (55 percent) also support establishing opportunities for citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

An even larger majority, 64 percent, supports adding 20,000 new Border Patrol agents and the hundreds of miles of fencing along the border with Mexico. But support drops by 11 percentage points, to 53 percent, among the random half of respondents who were also told the measures came “at a cost of 46 billion dollars.” Respondents were randomly assigned to hear the proposal with or without the cost; results for each group are reported separately.

While the Senate bill’s two cornerstones each enjoy majority support, the overlap is far from complete and breaks down along well-worn party lines. Democrats express wide support for a pathway to citizenship, but fewer than half (43 percent) support border controls for the price of $46 billion. Republicans overwhelmingly support heightened border controls, but are against the idea of a citizenship path.

The new Post-ABC poll also underscores the competing priorities that Americans see on the immigration issue. The 11-point drop in support for border measures indicates that some people support border-control efforts only up to a point and that most are wary of the high costs.

In the House, Republican leaders said this week that they are beginning to draft legislation that would establish how the children of immigrants here illegally could seek legal status or citizenship. The House Judiciary Committee is slated to hold a hearing on the topic next week before Republicans complete writing their bill.

Boehner said Thursday that the House should address the issue. “People expect that there should be fairness for children who came to this country illegally, but through no fault of their own,” he said.

Boehner was asked several times during his weekly news conference whether he could see working directly with Obama on an immigration bill or whether the House would ever adopt the comprehensive approach adopted by the Senate.

“This is a tricky path to do this correctly,” he said at one point. “We can’t have real immigration reform if we don’t first secure our borders. Americans will not accept an overhaul of the immigration laws without some real evidence that the borders are secured, and that we have the ability to enforce our laws.”

Clement is a survey research analyst with Capital Insight, the independent polling group of Washington Post Media.

Scott Clement is the polling manager at The Washington Post, specializing in public opinion about politics, election campaigns and public policy.
Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.

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