Home > Spotlight Analysis > Alabama and Americans’ Core Values on Immigration
Alabama and Americans’ Core Values on Immigration
Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux,
Topics: Immigration

Photo courtesy of Benjamin T. Vu via Flickr

In the aftermath of the judicial decision that upheld key portions of Alabama’s new immigration law, which the state’s governor is now touting as the “strongest” in the country, immigrants are already beginning to flee.  If the law’s goal is to produce a mass exodus of illegal immigrants, it looks as though it may already be succeeding.

In addition to requiring public schools to determine the immigration status of students and parents, the law also compels police officers to ask for documentation from people they stop if they have reason to suspect their immigration status.  Its critics are questioning whether such dramatic measures to detain immigrants living and working illegally in the United States are the best fix for such a complex problem.  Another crucial concern is whether this solution aligns with Americans’ core values on immigration reform, which extend beyond matters of security.

PRRI’s 2010 Religion, Values and Immigration Reform Survey illuminates the landscape even further: when asked about the values that should guide immigration reform policy, overwhelming numbers of Americans prioritize national security (88%) and ensuring fairness to taxpayers (84%), but are about equally as likely to emphasize protecting the dignity of every person (82%) and keeping families together (80%).

A strong majority (71%) also say following the Golden Rule – “providing immigrants the same opportunity that I would want if my family were immigrating to the U.S.” – is a very or extremely important moral guide for immigration reform.

Recent research from PRRI shows that about 6-in-10 Americans (57%) believe that the country’s current immigration system is broken.  But we also found that the public largely rejects a deportation-only approach to immigration reform in favor of a comprehensive approach: when asked to choose between the two, 62% of Americans say they prefer a strategy that secures the borders and provides an earned path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already in the country, compared to only 36% of Americans who want to secure the borders and seek to arrest and deport all illegal immigrants currently in the U.S.

The New York Times reported on Monday that the profiles of people in migrant shelters along the Mexico border are changing.  They are, increasingly, people who have been deported before; they have families and homes in the United States to which they are seeking to return.  The rootedness of this population of illegal immigrants presents a new practical as well as moral problem: does deporting immigrants who have made the United States their home ensure that they will not try to return?  And do policy measures like these uphold three values that Americans believe are important guiding principles: preserving individual dignity, working to keep families together, and following the Golden Rule?

These are questions that policymakers in states like Alabama will have to grapple with going forward. After all, as Dr. Robert P. Jones wrote in a column for the Washington Post over a year ago, Americans clearly want immigration reform, but they want solutions that reflect their values.