Immigration in America: Policy and Procedure

Last week, we looked at some poignant data gathered on our behalf by noted pollster Frank Luntz. 

Notable findings include 65% of Americans feeling familiar with the topic of immigration, and 70% of those polled stating that they want immigration changes to establish a permanent employment program for undocumented workers and those who seek to come to America legally to work. 

In this followup, we look at public opinion on specific policy proposals. 

Reasons for Fixing the Immigration System

Swing voters and Republican groups agree on the most compelling reason, while all agree on the least compelling reason. When asked “Which benefit of genuine immigration reform do you find is the MOST compelling reason to fix our immigration system,” 30% of swing voters and 41% of Republicans stated that those who went through the legal process to enter and work in the US will no longer be cheated by those who entered illegally. Twenty-one percent of Democrats agreed. 

In a close tie, 26% of swing voters and 33% of Republicans are also compelled by the fact that we can use the estimated $100 billion generated from the new program to improve our border security efforts, apprehend criminals, and prevent terrorism. This was the least compelling answer for Democrats, pulling on 12% of the vote. 

On the other end of the spectrum, the majority (28%) of Democrats like the idea that legal immigration makes the United States a more diverse and culturally rich country, compared to 16% of swing voters and 10% of Republicans. 

The least popular answer, bringing in only 13% of the total vote across the board, was “The best and brightest from across the globe who come to America for higher education can remain here to help build our economy.” This option pulled 16% of the Democrat vote, 15% of the swing vote, and 7% of the Republican vote. 

Important Areas of Agreement

Across the board, all parties share some important opinions on policy. Thirty-nine percent of all poll participants said that an immigration system based on what job skills America needs at the moment is the preferred approach, representing 34% of Democrats, 35% of swing voters, and 46% of Republicans. This system represented the highest ranking in all parties. 

Twenty-three percent said that a system based on per-country-caps would be better (19% Dem, 21% swing, 31% Rep), 21% said it should be based on family ties (30% Dem, 15% swing, 12% Rep), and only 17% agreed that we should implement as system based on specific job categories (17% Dem, 26% swing, 11% Rep).  

Sixty-eight percent of those surveyed (56% Dem, 68% swing, 81% Rep) agreed that high-skilled immigrants, specifically more scientists, engineers, and technology workers, were more important for America. The other 32% felt that low-skilled immigrants were needed to fill the jobs that Americans don’t want and won’t take. 

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In a landslide majority vote, 77% of those polled felt that a permanent employment program where the rules were clear and consistent was a better approach to immigration than a temporary employment program that changes when economic conditions changes. This vote represented 78% of Democrats, 70% of swing voters, and 82% of Republicans. 

One Appealing Plan

When presented with three proposals, the majority polled support a plan for undocumented workers to earn temporary legal status and potential permanent status. The net support for the plan represents 59% of voters, with only 18% in opposition. The remaining 23% were neutral to the idea. 

Specifics of the plan include:

  • Foreign nationals with a valid offer of employment would pay a $2,500 fee to obtain a 1-year guest worker visa that could be renewed every year for an additional $2,500/year. 

  • Employers can hire these visa holders if they pay them back the $2,500 over the 1-year as part of their monthly wage, which incentivizes employers to hire Americans first because they won’t be required to pay the additional visa fee. 

  • The state in which a workforce visa holder is employed will have access to $2,500 of the Workforce Trust Fund per visa holder. This will be used to fund apprenticeships, job training, job placement, and other workforce development skills. 

  • Visa holders may adjust status to legal permanent residence after 10 consecutive years if they pay an additional $25,000, incentivizing foreign workers to comply with the law, work hard, and be rewarded rather than overstaying their visa. 

  • Visa holders are not eligible for any means of tested government benefits of any kind. If they adjust their status to legal permanent resident, they cannot claim benefits retroactively. 

  • All employers who hire visa-holding employees must be part of E-Verify. 

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When asked which of the points of the plan was the strongest reason they supported it, the overall majority (20%) said the fact that visa holders would not be eligible for government benefits. 

By party, Democrats favored (28%)  employers paying back the additional $2,500 and the incentive to hire Americans first. Swing voters (23%) favored the creation and funding of the Workforce Trust fund. Republicans (29%) favored the overall majority regarding denial of benefits. 

There were also similar trends in opposition to the plan. Thirty-five percent, representing 36% of Democrats, 30% of swing voters, and 37% of Republicans, oppose visa holders paying an additional $25,000 to become permanent residents, though the nuances of why they were opposed were not noted. 

Twenty-seven percent (30% Democrats, 37% of swing voters, and 15% of Republicans) opposed the point regarding the $2,500 to become a 1-year guest worker, renewable for an additional $2,500 per year. 

The Chips Lie in the Details

Democrats and Republicans disagree with the specifics, while swing voters are split down the middle. Fifty-six percent of Democrats, 33% of swing voters, and only 17% of Republicans support a significant expansion of temporary visa programs for both high- and low-skilled workers to meet the evolving demands of the US labor market and economy. 

Meanwhile, 40% of Republicans would prefer the establishment of a fee-based temporary visa system to regulate immigrant demand while generating additional government revenue. Twenty-eight percent of Democrats and 32% of swing voters agreed.

When it comes to increasing the number of visas, 52% support America’s need to attract the best and brightest from other countries, and that it is better to have the most talented legal immigrants working in the US than working against us in China, India, or another country we compete with. 

Forty-eight percent said that American workers should always come first. At a time when good jobs are so scarce, businesses should not be allowed to bring in legal immigrants even if they can do the job better. They also noted that we should not expand legal immigration even for highly-skilled, highly-trained workers. 

Pan-partisan Consensus

No matter the party, there are a few opinions on immigration that everyone agrees on. Forty-eight percent of all those polled, representing the majority vote of all parties, agree that by making our legal immigration system more efficient and accountable, it will encourage those who would have chosen to enter illegally to instead take the legal path, and that allows our border security officers to focus their efforts on drug traffickers and dangerous transnational gangs attempting to gain entry into America. 

Additionally, and again representing the opinions of all three parties polled, 45% agree that an earned legalization program would allow foreign nationals of good moral character who are living in the United States to apply to adjust their status to obtain lawful permanent residence, and that such a program would stabilize the workforce, promote family unity, and bring a large population out of the shadows. 

Finally, 45% agree that we are educating the world’s best and brightest, but then telling 78 percent of them to go back home as soon as they’ve graduated, representing more than $246 billion in lost future government revenues, and that this is the most persuasive argument in supporting increasing legal immigration. 

While there seem to be more similarities than differences when it comes to the immigration argument, one fact rings true: Without reform, we are hurting ourselves, our country, and our future. 

The path to immigration reform is a long and winding one, but you can help your voice be heard by staying in contact with your legislators, actively participating in your right to vote, and subscribing to the IMMIG-Rant, our monthly newsletter dedicated to all things immigration.