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Immigration Reform 2013: Poll Shows Surprising Consenus

A new Gallup Poll shows that the majority of Americans favor improving the immigration system, regardless of their political affiliation. The poll distilled the proposals of both the Senate and the president into five key points and asked whether people would vote for or against these measures if put to a national vote.

The study, conducted via random phone interviews, randomly polled 1,019 adults over the age of 18 from all 50 states with an expected margin of error at ±4 percentage points.

The findings show that at least two-thirds of people favor each one of the measures that have been proposed. Does this mean that the American public is not as divided about the issue as it would seem? Not necessarily. More than anything the study shows that most people recognize the immigration system is flawed and would like to see changes made.

However, this study underlines that there are still very conflicting opinions about how to fix systemic failures. For instance 72% voted in favor of allowing undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship and 71% in favor of increasing the number of visas for those with advanced skills in STEM-related fields. At first glance this indicates that Americans believe immigrants to be hard working contributors to our economy and that the public is willing to let them work here especially in sectors where growth is lacking. At the same time 71% of those polled voted for creating a system to track the mobility of foreigners and 68% to increase government spending for security enforcement, demonstrating widespread concern for domestic safety. These findings illustrate incompatible perspectives regarding immigration reform, and suggest potential problems if all five measures were implemented simultaneously.

For example, to promise illegal immigrants a path to citizenship while at the same time creating a system to track their mobility, we could most likely anticipate widespread mistrust as many would feel they were being put on a government “watch list” under the false pretense of being granted citizenship. This becomes more salient when you consider that the Senate plan would only allow a pathway to citizenship after a committee determined the security of our national borders.

With citizenship contingent on tighter regulation of borders, it could well be many years before immigrants are even granted green cards. Meanwhile their mobility would be tracked, they would be required to pass a civics test, background check, pay back taxes, and learn English. Many would most likely not bother applying for naturalization if the time it takes to wait on a government list was extremely lengthy.

Perhaps the most key finding of this Gallup poll is evident when looking at the breakdown of the political affiliations of those questioned.

Here we see that the majority of Republicans polled stand in favor of all five measures including allowing an amnesty for those currently living here without papers. However, considering that the survey only interviewed 1,019 people the amount of Republicans included in this sample is relatively low.

It is more helpful to place this poll in the context of the other six national polls conducted thus far in 2013, which ask about public opinion concerning immigration. According to Nate Silver’s blog, which compared all six national polls, the average share of Republicans who are in favor of a path to citizenship has climbed to 48% from the 38% average of previous polls. So while this does show a slight change overtime in the Republican stance on immigration, the study overall does not prove much else.

At the end of the day we can deduce from the Gallup poll that there is significant momentum for immigration reform among the majority of Americans, but that the approaches for how to do so are still largely dissimilar.

Perhaps a more telling poll would ask which of the five specific measures proposed to address immigration reform should be a priority. It should be noted that both proposals on the table do little to reform the process of immigration itself, and leave out crucial components like the exorbitant price of naturalization applications and the underfunded, disorganized immigration court system. These issues remain major obstacles for many immigrants and have been entirely omitted from both proposals. Ultimately this poll shows a willingness among the American public to acknowledge failures and change the current immigration policies, but with 68% of those polled believing we should up security it also shows we remain very paranoid about foreigners. 

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