Immigration Reform: Americans Saying The Time Is Now

There has been a lot of talk this year about the “gang of eight” and the time finally being ripe for meaningful immigration reform in America.  A quick look at some of the polling conducted on this issue so far in 2013 very clearly shows us an American public ready for its leaders to take action.  Americans (1) see the current system as broken and in need of serious reform; (2) feel major immigration reform this year is “essential;” and (3) want a “long term” solution, not just a quick fix.

A bipartisan poll conducted in January of this year by Hart Research and Public Opinion Strategies showed that a mere twenty percent (20%) of Americans feel that the current immigration system is “working well.”  Conversely, seventy-five percent (75%) of Americans told us they feel the system is either “not working well” (29%) or “needs a complete overhaul” (46%).  In my home state of California, the new USC/LA Times poll shows two-thirds (67%) of California voters expressing their opinion that the immigration system in the United States either needs “major changes” (31%) or a “complete overhaul” (36%).

According to the bipartisan Hart Research/Public Opinion Strategies poll from January, eighty four percent (84%) of Republicans, sixty-four percent (64%) of Democrats, and seventy-nine percent (79%) of Independents now share the belief that the current immigration system is either not working well or needs a complete overhaul.  According to the new USC/LA Times Poll, only thirty-one percent (31%) of California Democrats now feel that the immigration system is working well while a strong sixty-four percent (64%) of Democrats now share the sentiment more popular with Republicans (79%) that the system is not working well or needs a complete overhaul.

Concern about the current immigration system is evident among both Caucasians and Hispanics/Latinos.  The Hart Research/Public Opinion Strategies polled showed that seventy-nine percent (79%) of Caucasians and sixty-seven percent (67%) of Hispanic/Latinos feel that the system is not working well or needs a complete overhaul.  Among the California voters surveyed on the USC/LA Times Poll, seventy-five percent (75%) of Caucasians along with a majority (54%) of Hispanic/Latinos shared this belief that the current system is not working.

While there is now wide consensus that the current system is broken, the phrase “immigration reform” has been commonly used as a catch-all ranging from meaning stricter border security, to tougher employer sanctions for hiring illegals, to the debate about creating a pathway to citizenship.  But as the debate continues forward, what is clear is that Americans would like there to be action – and a long term fix – regarding this issue.

Americans want “major reform” sooner rather than later.  Another national poll, conducted in February by the Pew Research Center and USA Today, showed that a very strong fifty-one percent (51%) of Americans feel that it is “essential” for President Obama and Congress to pass major immigration reform this year.  Only “passing major legislation to reduce the federal budget deficit” at seventy percent (70%) is considered to be more essential this year.

Finally, the American public wants their leaders to find a lasting solution, not just a quick fix.  According to the Hart Research/Public Opinion Strategies poll in January, when immigration reform does take place, almost eighty percent (79%) of Americans feel it should be a high priority to “pass a long term solution that fixes the immigration problem once and for all.”  Once again, voters of all partisan and ethnic stripes share in this desire to see the issue solved for good.  Over eighty percent (83%) of Republicans share this belief along with seventy-eight percent (78%) of Democrats and seventy-six percent (76%) of Independents.  Along ethnic lines, eighty percent (80%) of Caucasians and seventy-five percent (75%) of Hispanic/Latinos expressed a need for a long-term solution.

Specific components of immigration reform such as border enforcement, employment verification systems, guest worker programs, and paths to citizenship are still very contentious issues, and reaching a bipartisan solution that can build broad majority support will still certainly not be an easy task.  That said, as we and our leaders continue to debate the specific components of this “meaningful immigration reform” as the year goes on, the numbers make it very hard to argue with the fact that not getting the job done very soon would be a real missed opportunity as Americans truly feel that the time for reform is now.

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