CNN Survey indicates Americans overwhelmingly Favor Path to Citizenship for Undocumented Immigrants

    WASHINGTON (TIP): A CNN survey conducted February 6, says Americans overwhelmingly favor a bill that would give most undocumented immigrants a pathway towards citizenship, according to a new national poll.

    And a CNN/ORC International survey also indicates that a majority of the public says that the government’s main focus should be legalizing the status of the undocumented rather than border security.

    The poll was released Thursday, the same day that House Speaker John Boehner signaled any action on immigration is unlikely this year because House Republicans don’t trust President Barack Obama on the issue. According to the poll, 54% say the top priority for the government in dealing with the issue of illegal immigration should be developing a plan that would allow undocumented immigrants with jobs to eventually become legal U.S. residents.

    Just over four in ten questioned say the main focus should be developing a plan for stopping the flow of undocumented immigrants into the U.S. and for deporting those already here. “The Republicans’ insistence that border security be the primary focus of U.S. immigration policy may have been a popular stand in 2011, but not necessarily in 2014,” said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. “American attitudes toward undocumented immigrants have changed. Starting in 2012, most Americans have said that the government’s focus should be on a plan that would allow those immigrants to become legal U.S. residents.

    A majority has consistently taken that position since that time – 56% in 2012, 53% in 2013, and 54% in the current poll,” added Holland. The Democratic-controlled Senate last year passed a bipartisan illegal immigration bill that included an eventual pathway towards citizenship for most of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. According to the poll, more than eight in 10 support such a plan.

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    There is little partisan divide, with 88% of Democrats, 81% of independents and 72% of Republicans in agreement. The Senate bill stalled in the GOP dominated House. Republicans said they preferred to address the matter incrementally rather than in one comprehensive measure. One idea House Republicans are considering is giving undocumented immigrants legal status to stay in the U.S., but not allow them a pathway towards citizenship. According to the survey, only 35% support such an idea, with just over six in 10 opposed.

    Again, there was no partisan divide, with two-thirds of Democrats and around six in 10 independents and Republicans opposing such a plan. The poll was conducted for CNN by ORC International from Jan. 31-Feb. 2, with 1,010 adults nationwide questioned by telephone. The survey’s overall sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points. Meanwhile, on January 30, the House Republican Leadership released a one-page document entitled “Standards for Immigration Reform”. This is the long-awaited response to the bipartisan immigration reform bill passed by the Senate in June 2013.

    The Republicans Immigration Principles first address the issue of immigration enforcement. They declare that the following three things must occur before there can be any legalization program: 1) We must secure our borders and verify that they are secure; 2) There must be a functioning entry-exit system to make sure that people do not overstay their visas; 3) There must be a workable electronic employment verification system.

    Reform the Legal Immigration System
    The standards call for increasing the number of employment-based visas, limiting the number of family-based visas and eliminating the visa lottery. They also stressed the need for temporary workers, and explicitly endorse a temporary visa program for agricultural workers.

    With respect to legalization of the 11-12 million persons who are residing in the U.S. without papers, the standards explicitly reject a “special pathway to citizenship”. In order for these persons to be able to legalize their status, they must:
    1) Admit their culpability;
    2) Pass rigorous background checks;
    3) Pay significant fines and back taxes;
    4) Develop proficiency in English and American civics; and
    5) Be able to support themselves and their families without public benefits.

    There will be no legalization program until certain enforcement measures have been implemented and found to be working. The standards do allow an exception for persons who were brought to the United States as children by their parents. They will have a path to citizenship if they meet certain eligibility standards and they either serve in the U.S. military or they obtain a college degree. The standards foreclose the possibility of negotiating a compromise bill with the upper house based on the bill passed by the Senate in 2013. Instead, they call for piecemeal legislation.

    Is a Compromise Possible?
    Given these broad principles, is there any hope for a compromise reform bill to become law in 2014? First, consider that many of these GOP House principles mirror parts of the Senate bill:
    1) Tough border enforcement;
    2) Mandatory E-Verify;
    3) Increasing employment-based immigration;
    4) Reducing family-based immigration and eliminating the visa lottery;
    5) New temporary visa program including one for agricultural workers.

    The main point of contention is the rejection of the Senate’s 13-year Pathway to Citizenship. Is it good policy to legalize millions of undocumented workers without allowing them to become U.S. citizens one day? Here the GOP House Standards threaten to upset the delicate balance worked out between labor and management in crafting the Senate’s compromise legislation. Richard Trumka, the President of the AFL-CIO and a strong supporter of the Senate bill stated that “half-measures that would create a permanent class of noncitizens without access to green cards should be condemned, not applauded.

    Until we create a functioning immigration system with a pathway to citizenship, ruthless employers will continue to exploit low wage workers, pulling down wages for all.” However, Representative Paul Ryan (RWS) who may be a contender for the Presidential nomination in 2016 made statements which show that there is a substantial wiggle room in the Principles for compromise. “If you want to get in line to get a green card like any other immigrant, you can do that. You just have to get at the back of the line so that we preference that legal immigrant who did things right in the first place.”

    So, what’s the bottom line?
    Here is what President Obama had to say: “If the speaker proposes something that says right away, folks aren’t being deported, families aren’t being separated, we’re able to attract top young students to provide the skills or start businesses here, and then there’s a regular process of citizenship, I’m not sure how wide the divide ends up being.” Here is my take: Wait for the Republican primaries to be over in May and June.

    Then, GOP representatives, no longer looking over their right shoulders at Tea Party challengers, will be in a better position to compromise. Notice that while the principles oppose a “special” pathway to citizenship, there is no explicit bar to legalized persons eventually attaining U.S. citizenship. There is room for compromise. Skeptical? Consider how far the GOP has moved toward reality on immigration policy since Mitt Romney’s “selfdeportation” fiasco of 2012.

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