This week's debate following media reports (including the Slatest) claiming that Senator Rand Paul had endorsed a "path to citizenship" as a part of immigration reform made clear that the Republican party is still not unified on a new immigration platform. But a new survey on immigration reform out today indicates that the American public, at least, has a clear majority opinion: More than 60 percent of Americans support an earned "path to citizenship" for immigrants currently living illegally in in United States. That includes majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and independents, and majorities in every major religious group.
The survey, from the Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution, offered three reform options to respondents: "earned" citizenship, meaning that immigrants residing illegally in the United States would have the opportunity to earn American citizenship under certain conditions; an immigration system that offers a permanent legal resident option, but not a path to citizenship; and identification and deportation. 63 percent of Americans favored the citizenship option, 14 percent preferred the permanent legal resident option, and 21 percent would rather identify and deport. The number of Americans supporting a path to citizenship increased to 68 percent when asked to choose between securing our borders while offering earned citizenship, and securing our borders while identifying and deporting. Twenty-nine percent of Americans supported the latter.
As for religious groups, here's PRRI's breakdown of the numbers:
Hispanic Catholics (74%), Hispanic Protestants (71%), black Protestants (70%), Jewish Americans (67%), Mormons (63%), white Catholics (62%), white mainline Protestants (61%), and white evangelical Protestants (56%) agree that the immigration system should allow immigrants currently living in the U.S. illegally to become citizens provided they meet certain requirements.
That means that one of the two major bases of the Republican party, white evangelicals, support a path to citizenship. Of all the partisan and religious groups surveyed for the study, only the Tea Party came short of a majority of support on a path to citizenship with 45 percent.
Instead, most tea partiers would opt for reform that either offers a permanent legal resident option, or identifies and deports immigrants living illegally in the country. The survey seems to confirm assumptions leading to the GOP's rapid attempts to change its immigration stance after the 2012 elections: 45 percent of Americans believe that the Republican Party's previous immigration policies have hurt them in recent elections. "Self-deportation," specifically, was favored by just 34 percent of Americans, while nearly two-thirds didn't think it was the best reform option.
There's a lot of interesting stuff in the longer report, which covers everything from immigration policy to American nostalgia for the 1950's to American perception of foreign influence. Read the full report here.