New research finds consensus that 13-year waiting period is too long; divisions over fines and increased border security spending
WASHINGTON — Support for immigration reform legislation, which is currently stalled in the House of Representatives, has remained steady throughout 2013, new research finds. A majority of Americans (63 percent) support immigration reform legislation that includes a path to citizenship for immigrants currently living in the U.S. illegally, provided they meet certain requirements. Support for a path to citizenship crosses political and religious lines, including majorities of traditionally conservative groups such as Republicans (60 percent) and white evangelical Protestants (55 percent).
Majority support for comprehensive immigration reform also remains consistent across regions and in key states. Despite having very different experiences with immigrants, roughly 6-in-10 Ohioans (60 percent), Floridians (61 percent) and Arizonans (64 percent) support a path to citizenship for immigrants living in the country illegally.
The research from the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute includes the results from four new national and state surveys as well as from focus groups, tracking the attitudes found in March 2013 by the PRRI/Brookings Religion, Values and Immigration Reform Survey, one of the largest surveys ever conducted on immigration.
“Despite the ups and downs of the prospects for immigration reform in Congress, public support for a path to citizenship has remained rock steady throughout 2013,” said Dr. Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute. “Immigration reform remains one of those rare issues that largely transcends political and religious divisions.”
While support for comprehensive reform has remained constant this year, Americans are now significantly more likely to say the country’s immigration system is completely broken. Today, 34 percent of Americans say the United States immigration system is completely broken and an additional 31 percent say it is mostly broken but working in some areas. In March 2013, 23 percent of Americans said the system was completely broken, while 40 percent said the system was mostly broken.
In addition to majority support for a path to citizenship, the new research finds there is political consensus that the proposed 13-year waiting period is too long. Nearly 7-in-10 (68 percent) Americans say 13 years is too long for someone to attain citizenship, while 24 percent say it is about the right length of time, and 5 percent say it is too short.
The research also finds divided opinions on the issue of appropriate fines and border security spending, which were included in the Senate immigration package in June of this year. More Americans than not (43 percent) say that an estimated $4,000 per person in mandatory fines and fees is too much, although a substantial minority (35 percent) say this amount is about right. Only 16 percent of Americans believe that $4,000 in fines and fees is too little. Nearly half (49 percent) of Americans are in favor of a proposal to add 20,000 new border control agents and 700 miles of fencing along the Mexican border at an estimated cost of $46 billion, while 45 percent of Americans are opposed to this proposal.
“Despite widespread agreement about the broad contours of immigration reform, there are significant political disagreements about some of the specifics,” said Daniel Cox, PRRI’s research director. “A majority of Democrats believe $4,000 in fines and fees is too much for individual immigrants to pay, but only one-third of Republicans agree. Conversely, nearly 7-in-10 Republicans support increased border security measures compared to only about 4-in-10 Democrats.”
Among the findings:
Throughout 2013, there has been consistent bipartisan and cross-religious support for creating a path to citizenship for immigrants living in the United States. Today, 63 percent of Americans favor providing a way for immigrants who are currently living in the United States illegally to become citizens, as long as they meet certain requirements, while 14 percent support allowing them to become permanent legal residents but not citizens, and less than 1-in-5 (18 percent) favor a policy that would identify and deport all immigrants living in the United States illegally. Support for a path to citizenship has remained unchanged from earlier this year, when in both March and August 2013, an identical number (63 percent) supported a path to citizenship for immigrants currently living in the United States illegally.
- Roughly 6-in-10 (60 percent) Republicans and independents (57 percent) and nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of Democrats favor a path to citizenship for immigrants currently living in the United States illegally.
- Majorities of white evangelical Protestants (55 percent), white mainline Protestants (60 percent), Catholics (62 percent), minority Protestants (69 percent), and the religiously unaffiliated (64 percent) also favor a path to citizenship for immigrants currently living in the United States illegally.
Despite having different experiences with immigrants, there is remarkable consistency in support for immigration reform policy across key states.
- More than 6-in-10 (61 percent) Americans favor the DREAM Act, which would allow immigrants brought illegally to the United States as children a way to attain legal resident status by joining the military or going to college, while 34 percent oppose. The profiles of Ohio (60 percent favor, 34 percent oppose), Arizona (64 percent favor, 36 percent oppose), and Florida (64 percent favor, 33 percent oppose) residents look nearly identical to all Americans on this question.
Between March 2013 and today, there has been no significant shift in Americans’ opinions about how high a priority immigration reform should be for President Obama and Congress.
- Roughly 4-in-10 (41 percent) Americans believe immigration policy should be an immediate priority for President Obama and Congress, while roughly as many (42 percent) say it should be a priority during the next couple of years. Only 14 percent of Americans say it should not be a priority at all. Notably, Hispanic Americans (55 percent) are significantly more likely than both white Americans (38 percent) and black Americans (39 percent) to say immigration policy should be an immediate priority for President Obama and Congress.
- In March 2013, 37 percent reported that immigration policy should be an immediate priority for the president and Congress, while 46 percent said it should be a priority over the next couple of years, and only 17 percent said it should not be a priority.
Using a controlled survey experiment, PRRI found that survey questions that make no mention of requirements that immigrants living in the country illegally must meet produce lower support for a path to citizenship than questions that do mention requirements, especially among more conservative groups such as Republicans and white evangelical Protestants.
- When there is no mention of requirements that immigrants living in the country illegally must meet, nearly 6-in-10 (59 percent) Americans support a path to citizenship.
- When the question mentions “certain requirements” that immigrants living in the country illegally must meet, nearly 7-in-10 (68 percent) Americans support a path to citizenship.
- When the question references specific requirements such as paying back taxes, learning English, and passing a background check, 71 percent support a path to citizenship.
The report draws on five surveys conducted between February and November 2013. The results of each survey were based were based on bilingual (Spanish and English) telephone interviews among a random sample of adults age 18 years of age or older. Results from the November Religion & Politics Tracking survey were based on bilingual (Spanish and English) telephone interviews conducted between November 6, 2013, and November 10, 2013, by professional interviewers under the direction of Social Science Research Solutions (SSRS). Interviews were conducted among a random sample of 1,005 adults 18 years of age or older in the continental United States (405 respondents were interviewed on a cell phone). The margin of error for the survey is +/- 3.1 percentage points at the 95 percent level of confidence.
Read the topline questionnaire, including the survey methodology.