Immigration Reform 2013: Majority Of Religious Americans Support Path to Citizenship

A new survey indicates that the majority of religious Americans support a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants currently living in the United States. While this is an interesting fact, it’s not altogether surprising.

The strongest support in the poll, conducted by the Brookings Institute, was from Hispanic Catholics, Hispanic Protestants, and black Protestants, more than 70% of whom supported a pathway to legalization. Closely behind were Jewish Americans (67%), Mormons (63%), white Catholics (62%) and white mainline protestants (61%) while evangelical Protestants brought up the rear with 56%. Americans overall favor a path to legalization at 63%.

Robert P. Jones, the CEO of Public Religion Research Institute said that morals and family values were the main reason that religious Americans tend to be in favor of such a policy — they want to keep families together.

“Most world religions have what we tend to call the Golden Rule,” Jones said. “Immigration policy that is fair, that provides reasonable opportunities, that resonates with religious values all the way across the religious spectrum.”

That makes sense, and the breakdown of the groups is also not surprising. Hispanics have obvious reasons for being in favor of a path to legalization, and blacks tend to be Democratic making them more likely to be in favor of such a policy even disregarding their religion. Jewish and Catholic Americans also tend to vote Democratic, and protestants — while the party of family values — tend to be more conservative, so it is —again — unsurprising that they bring up the back end of the poll. 

While it may seem surprising that Mormons were one of the most favorable to this policy, a look at their history tells you why they feel the way they do: Facing ridicule in the mid1800s, Church leaders literally picked up and moved an entire people out West. It is no surprise that they would empathize with people who do the same.

The Mormon Church’s public stances have also been extremely lenient on immigration, even if Mitt Romney wasn’t their greatest spokesperson on the issue. They were, for instance, instrumental in a piece of legislation in Utah two years ago that would provide “guest worker” permits to allow illegal immigrants with jobs to stay in the U.S. They also publicly supported a declaration calling for the humane treatment of immigrants and denouncing policies that would separate families. 

The Catholic Church has made similar pronouncements on their official immigration stance, even if they haven’t thrown their weigh behind specific policies. In early 2011, the Conference of U.S. Bishops released their official stance on the issue, which included “earned legalization” and “family-based immigration reform.”

Leaders in the Jewish religion have been much more open about their specific policy recommendations, calling immigration reform “key” to solving economic problems and ending the persecution of those seeking asylum.

Given the social justice nature of immigration in general, religious support behind a more inclusive immigration policy is logical. What remains disconnected, however, is the historical lack of support for immigration reform from the party that touts itself as the party of religion.

“Members of Congress, who rely on elections, are paying more attention to the politics of this issue,” Jones told CNN. “What we have here is political reality meeting public support.”

Perhaps this public support, combined with the eminent need to appeal to the growing Hispanic population will push the GOP over the edge, and we may finally be able to reach a consensus on this important issue. 

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Jessica Huseman

Jessica wrote for Mic.com until Feb. 2014. Now she's an investigative reporter at The Teacher Project, writing articles on K12 education for Slate.com. Her work has appeared in ProPublica, The Atlantic, Slate, The Dallas Morning News and Chalkbeat and more. Find her contact info and her recent work at www.jessicalhuseman.com.

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