Early this week, immigration reform took center stage in Washington when a bipartisan group of Senators led by Republicans Marco Rubio (FL) and John McCain (AZ) unveiled a comprehensive immigration reform plan on Monday, which was given a “thumbs up” from President Obama the next day.
The Senate plan proposed by Senators Schumer (D-NY), McCain (R-AZ), Durbin (D-IL), Graham (R-SC), Menendez (D-NJ), Rubio (R-FL), Bennet (D-CO), and Flake (R-AZ) calls for a reform based on four “pillars” that include a path to citizenship for those immigrants already in the U.S., a better verification system of the immigration status of new hires, and a process for admitting new people that better reflects the job market.
Americans have long supported some of the policies likely to be pursued in the immigration reform effort. For example, 62% agree that the best way to solve the immigration problem is to both secure our borders and provide a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in the U.S. Addressing the issue of employers who hire unauthorized immigrants is considered an extremely or very serious problem by 62% of Americans.
While the Senate and the President seem to be on the same page, there is still the question of how the Republican-controlled House of Representatives will tackle the issue of immigration. The tenuous consensus that emerged from the Senate does not exist among the public, where strong partisan divisions remain. Nearly three-quarters of Democrats (74%) favor securing the border and provide a path to citizenship while Republicans are divided, with half (50%) preferring the path to citizenship and nearly half (48%) favoring arresting and deporting those in the country illegally. Further complicating matters is the strongly anti-immigration stance of the Tea Party. Nearly 6-in-10 (57%) of those who identify as members of the Tea Party prefer the deportation option.
The results of the 2012 elections, especially among Hispanic and Asian American voters, make immigration reform salient to the electoral future of the Republican Party in an increasingly diverse America. Senate Republicans, many of whom face electorates in states with growing Latino populations, understand the imperative attached to this legislation. Whether the House plays along depends on how its members weigh their short-term electoral goals of avoiding primaries from the right in increasingly gerrymandered districts against their party’s long-term electoral viability.