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BPC Data Points to a New Middle on Immigration Reform

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Washington, D.C.– A new report by the Bipartisan Policy Center and BPC Action, with survey support by Luntz Global, suggests the consensus set of immigration policies that Americans support is more to the right than many realize. Large majorities of American voters want the federal government to tackle immigration reform in a way that creates a controlled legal immigration system that is both fair and consistent, while prioritizing the characteristics of prospective immigrants. Reform efforts will need to include strong support for enforcement, a merit-based system that emphasizes an individual’s work-ethic and language capability in addition to family relationships or skills, and a path to legal status for the undocumented.

Over the past year, BPC and BPC Action engaged in a major effort aimed at finding out what Americans think about the U.S. immigration system and what they want done to fix it. The resulting analysis, The New Middle on Immigration Reform, found that a large majority believe the current system is broken, and 75 percent of those surveyed want the federal government to lead on immigration reform, not states or localities. While majorities want this to include strong enforcement both at the border and interior, 69 percent of respondents also support a path to legal status for those here illegally.

“This new middle on immigration rests on a comprehensive solution: a controlled system with clear criteria for admission, that combines strong enforcement with a path to legal status for those currently in the United States illegally. If we want to reach a viable solution, legislators will need to craft a new blueprint that addresses these policy priorities,” said Theresa Cardinal Brown, BPC’s director of immigration and cross-border policy. Survey respondents placed the most trust in President Trump and congressional Democrats to come up with the best solution, meaning that a bipartisan approach is critical for generating real reform.

Much of the immigration debate over the recent past seems to miss where Americans really are. For example, worries about jobs and wage competition rated among the lowest concerns for respondents, with more worried that immigrants are taking welfare or other government services and benefits that should be directed to Americans first. Meanwhile, legalization for the undocumented is supported by majorities of Republicans, Democrats and swing voters, and does not seem to be as controversial.

The report is based on a nationwide survey conducted in April of 1,004 voters consisting of 39 percent Democrats, 37 percent Republicans, and 24 percent independents; two focus groups in Pittsburgh and Detroit; and three roundtables with state legislators and county officials, organized in partnership with the National Council of State Legislatures and the National Association of Counties.