Most Americans Favor Allowing Illegal Immigrants to Stay in the United States

Any discussion of immigration reform invariably brings to mind the question of how to deal with those people already living in America illegally.  This question of deportation versus providing a way for those here illegally to remain in the country has become highly charged politically, especially among the traditional partisan bases of the two major political parties.  Supporters of allowing illegal immigrants to stay talk about “providing a pathway to citizenship” and about allowing hard working immigrants to “come out of the shadows,” pay their taxes, and contribute to the American economy.  Opponents like to use the word “amnesty” and talk about how allowing illegals to stay in America rewards people for breaking the law while at the same time encouraging further illegal immigration.

Yet, despite the continued contentious debate among political insiders, a comprehensive immigration reform bill appears more likely to become law this year than it has at any point in over six years. One of the primary reasons for this optimism is that the national polling continues to show that most Americans want to find a way to allow illegal immigrants to stay in the country rather than forcing them to leave.

A recent national survey conducted May 1st through 5th by the Pew Research Center, found that seventy-three percent (73%) of Americans agree more with the statement that, “There should be a way for those who meet certain requirements to stay in the country legally.”  On the flip side of the coin, only a quarter (25%) of survey respondents say they agree more with the statement that, “They should not be allowed to stay in the country legally.”  Sixty-three percent (63%) of self-identified Republicans and seventy-four percent (74%) of Independents come down on the side of finding a way to allow them to stay in the country legally.

Among those surveyed on the Pew survey, forty-four percent (44%) say the illegal immigrants should be allowed to apply for U.S. citizenship, and another twenty-five percent (25%) say they should be able to apply at least for permanent residency.  Thirty-five percent (35%) of Republicans and forty-three percent (43%) of Independents say they favor citizenship while twenty five percent (25%) and twenty-seven percent (27%) respectively say they favor permanent residency.

Another recent poll, conducted by Quinnipiac University May 22nd to 28th, found that sixty-eight percent (68%) of registered voters say illegal immigrants currently living in the United States either, “should be allowed to stay in the United States and to eventually apply for U.S. citizenship” (54%), or “should be allowed to remain in the United States, but not be allowed to apply for U.S. citizenship (12%).  Less than thirty percent (29%) of the voters interviewed say they should be “required to leave the U.S.”  Fifty-four percent (54%) of registered Republicans and sixty-five percent (65%) of Independents are on board with one of the two options allowing the illegal immigrants to stay.

Yet another survey, this one conducted by NBC News/Wall Street Journal May 30th through June 2nd, shows sixty-five percent (65%) of Americans favoring a plan which would allow “foreigners now staying illegally in the United States the opportunity to eventually become legal citizens if they pay a fine, any back taxes, pass a security check, and take other required steps.”  Only thirty-one percent (31%) of Americans said they would oppose the plan just described.  Fifty-eight percent (58%) of Republicans and fifty-four percent (54%) of Independents voiced their opinion in favor of such a plan.

However, it is very important to note the details involved in the above plan.  Another question, asked on the same NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey, left out the language about paying fines, back taxes, and passing security checks.  Only fifty-two percent (52%) of Americans are in favor of the plan without the details included, and forty-three percent (43%) say they would oppose such a plan.  These details are particularly important to registered Republicans.  Without the details included in the proposal, only thirty-five percent (35%) of Republicans said they would favor the plan, and sixty-one percent (61%) of them said they would oppose the plan.

This American support for finding a way for long-time illegal immigrants to remain in the country is not something new.  In fact, a similar question on a poll conducted by CBS News and the New York Times back in May of 2007, found even more Americans ready for compromise than we see today.  At that time, six years ago, sixty-seven percent (67%) of those interviewed said they would favor “allowing illegal immigrants who came into the country before January (2007) to apply for a four-year visa that could be renewed, as long as they pay a $5,000 fine, a fee, show a clean work record and pass a criminal background check.  Only twenty-eight percent (28%) of Americans said they would oppose such a plan.  At that time, sixty-six percent (66%) of self-identified Republicans and sixty-five percent (65%) of Independents were on board.

As you can clearly see, there has been and continues to be national bipartisan support for a compromise which would allow illegal immigrants already in the United States to stay.

Public Opinion Strategies