Citizenship is the Centerpiece of Immigration Reform
December 5, 2012 | Click here to download PDF
Americans support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Citizenship for undocumented Americans is the “missing piece” in our national immigration strategy, which has focused until today only on enforcement. It is also the centerpiece of the reform we need Congress and the President to enact.
In the 2012 network exit polls, 65% of all voters said that undocumented immigrants “should be offered a chance to apply for legal status,” while only 28% said that they should be “deported to the country they came from.” Numerous other polls that divide “legal status” into two options–full citizenship and temporary legal status–show that citizenship is by far the preferred option.
Full citizenship is also the only policy that will help Republicans improve their standing with Latinos. Anything less will be seen as second-class status.
Latino Voters to GOP: Do You Respect Us or Reject Us?
Like all Americans, Latinos want fair treatment and practical solutions. But according to Latino Decisions polling, 60 percent of all Latino voters know someone who is undocumented, and 25 percent know someone who is either facing deportation or has been deported. To Latino voters, the issue of immigration reform is not just about policy—it’s personal.
That is why Latino voters see immigration policy and reform from multiple lenses, and why the issue has defined the two parties to many of these voters. Is my place in this country accepted or challenged? Are my family members and friends respected or rejected? And—will the policy in question help or hurt people I know and love?
It’s not enough for Republicans to support some form of legalization. It has to be a path to full inclusion/full citizenship for qualified immigrants. As political scientist Gary Segura of Latino Decisions put it: “Latinos voters are simply not going to be happy with an outcome that keeps Latino immigrants on the margins of society. And if the GOP is identified as the key obstacle stopping a path to citizenship for Latino immigrants, the party will have accomplished little towards Sean Hannity’s goal of getting the issue behind them.”
In a June 2012 Latino Decisions poll in five battleground states, 80% of Latino voters supported legalization of undocumented immigrants. Of those supporting legalization, nearly 78% preferred access to citizenship while under 23% preferred temporary status. Latino Decisions found similar results in a June 2011 poll of Latino voters.
When Republicans opposed immigration reform their stock with Latinos plummeted, and the only way to improve their standing is to change course. In Latino Decisions’ 2012 election-eve polling, 31% of Latino voters said they would be more likely to vote for Republicans if the GOP took a leadership role in supporting a path to citizenship. In the survey, 19% of all Latino voters chose Obama this election but expressed willingness to vote the other way if the GOP leads on immigration.
When it Comes to Immigration Reform and Citizenship, Latinos and Non-Latinos Agree
Latinos and non-Latinos are actually in agreement on this core issue. Gary Segura writes: “In November of 2011, we asked the same question [preferred policy toward undocumented immigrants] to a sample of all American registered voters, regardless of race and ethnicity. We found then that 58% of all registered voters (including 53% of self-identified Republicans) favored a path to citizenship, while only 14% preferred the guest worker approach and only 25% favored deportation.
“Curiously, Fox News repeated our question on their December 2011 poll and found the same results—although support for a path to citizenship was actually higher in Fox’s poll among all citizens and Republicans alike!”
From Latino Decisions:
In the December 2011 Fox News poll, which was conducted when all eyes were on the Republican presidential primary, 79% of Americans supported legalization while only 19% supported deportation. Nearly 84% of the legalization supporters chose a path to citizenship over temporary status. Support was high even among Republicans, with 57% of all Republicans in favor of citizenship and another 15% supporting guest worker status. Only 26% of Republicans chose deportation.
A November 2012 post-election poll conducted by ABC News/Washington Post asked: Do you support or oppose a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants? Overall, 57% of Americans expressed support for a path to citizenship while 39% were opposed. The breakdown is even starker by age. Sixty-five percent of younger voters (18-39) support a path to citizenship, along with a clear majority of those between 40 and 64. Only voters 65 and over are opposed, by a small margin. The trend line is clear:
Independents are supportive, as well:
Similarly, in two New York Times/CBS polls, 64% of Americans supported legalization in February and again in June 2012. Less than a third selected deportation. In both polls, two-thirds of those who supported legalization preferred full citizenship rather than temporary status.
A real immigration solution—with a path to citizenship for the millions of hard-working immigrants who have put down roots and want to become full Americans—is possible if both parties work together. If they do, they’ll have the backing of most Americans—including, but not limited to, Latinos.