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The People’s Choice: Immigration Reform

Most Voters Support CIR

When Rep. John Boehner became Speaker of the House of Representatives in 2011, he said, “This is the people’s House. This is their Congress. It’s about them, not us.”

Today, immigration reform increasingly seems to be the people’s choice – including people who are Republicans – but legislative reform is stuck. And the House of Representatives is the primary barrier.

Historically, one reason immigration reform has been difficult is the U.S. public’s ambivalence on the issue. Everyone agrees that the system is dysfunctional and needs to be updated, but there is disagreement on how to do so. Some (mostly on the right) want more border security and more expulsions of unauthorized immigrants. Others (mostly on the left) argue for an easy path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants and a generous policy toward future immigrants that is based mostly on family connections.

Although there are shifts in public opinion from month to month and from year to year, there is mounting evidence of a clear public consensus – a consensus built around comprehensive immigration reform policies similar to those in the bill the Senate passed last year.

In May, a Politico poll found that comprehensive immigration reform draws broad bipartisan support. The poll indicated that 71 percent of likely voters in competitive House and Senate districts supported comprehensive reform, while 28 percent opposed it.

The 78 percent support among Democrats is probably not a surprise, but the poll findings of 64 percent support among Republican respondents demonstrate that reform is now supported by major swaths of Republican voters. But many Republican House legislators – and those within Republican leadership – are reticent about moving on immigration reform.

Public opinion can’t be discerned from a single poll, of course, and there are other surveys that conflict with the Politico poll. But it is one piece of evidence that public support for immigration reform may be growing. Increasingly, however, it looks as though reform is stymied in the House – the same House that was touted as being a reflection of popular will rather the domain of politicians alone. Andrew Wainer

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