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Public, Policymakers Divided On Immigration Reform Details

Immigration reform momentum has slowed in recent weeks as House Speaker John Boehner questioned whether an immigration bill could pass the House due to Republicans’, “Widespread doubt about whether this administration can be trusted to enforce our laws.”

But even as reform was put on the legislative back-burner, there is a growing general consensus in public opinion and in Congress about how to move forward. Even after indicating that immigration would not be among House Republican legislative priorities early this year, both President Obama and Boehner said that during a rare hour-long face-to-face meeting at the White House, the issue they most agreed upon was immigration. But for Congress and the public, the devil is in the details.

Recent poling from the Pew Research Center shows broad support for the general outlines of some of the most controversial components of reform. For example almost three-fourths of respondents (73 percent) said that “immigrants living in the United States illegally should have a way to stay legally.”

                        Data about opinions on legal status and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants

But the broad agreement among the public breaks down when it comes to what type of legal status qualifying unauthorized immigrants should be granted. Almost half of all respondents (46 percent) said that immigrants should be granted a path to citizenship while about a quarter (24 percent) said they should be eligible to apply only for permanent residency status. The remaining quarter of respondents said that unauthorized immigrants should not be allowed to stay in the United States at all.

This also reflects the divides among policymakers. While Democrats generally support immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants, Republicans have proposed  a path to legalization for most immigrants with no "special path to citizenship."

The Republican principles on immigration reform that allowed for a general legalization of unauthorized immigrants was a major step toward building a bipartisan consensus. But bridging the details among the public and the political parties on the path forward for unauthorized immigrants will be one of many thorny policy details that will be at the forefront of discussion and debate during 2014.

  Andrew Wainer


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Thanks for the useful analysis.Republicans might change their minds if they feel it at the polls.

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