(NewsNation Now) — Americans are largely divided on how to address immigration with a notable exception: A dominant majority — perhaps larger than ever before — supports a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already in the country, according to a new NewsNation/Decision Desk HQ poll.
The poll suggests that despite a crisis at the border with a growing influx of undocumented immigrants crossing into the country, momentum continues to grow for granting citizenship to those who are already here.
Nearly 70 percent of Americans support that path to citizenship, according to the NewsNation poll, which surveyed more than 1,000 registered voters over the weekend. Generally, in the past, blanket support for a path has gone no higher than the high 50s.
“Despite whether you think there should be more immigration or less immigration, whether or not you think there should be a wall or not be a wall, 70 percent of Americans think that, ‘Hey, if you’re here illegally already, you should at least give them a path to citizenship,” said Scott Tranter, an adviser for Decision Desk HQ, which conducted the research on behalf of NewsNation.
Migration researcher Ernesto Castañeda, a sociology professor and director of the Immigration Lab at American University, said this and similar polls show how lawmakers need to lean on the issue of immigration.
“Some domestic advisers in the White House falsely think that if Biden pushes for a path to citizenship and programs to regularize the undocumented, that there would be a political price to pay in future elections,” Castañeda said.
Tranter added: “That’s a clear winner there for the Biden administration, or any administration or any politician, to look at and say: ‘Hey, I want to be for something which the majority of Americans are supporting.’”
Americans’ feelings about a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in the country has ebbed and flowed among in the past several years. The country has typically been strongly in favor of citizenship for DREAMers, the term for undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children. The percentage also remains high if there are some requirements to the path toward citizenship.
But Americans who favor a path to citizenship starts to drop when the question is for adults or there are fewer requirements attached to obtaining citizenship.
Overall, Americans said immigration is an important issue, according to the NewsNation/Decision Desk HQ poll. 86 percent of those polled said immigration was somewhat or very important.
“Part of what you’re seeing is an appetite for reform that’s almost four decades in the making,” said Shannon Gleeson, a Cornell University law and history professor.
The last major immigration reform that was passed was in 1986, Gleeson said.
But unlike a path to citizenship, Americans are divided on almost everything else related to immigration, the poll found. (The poll had 3% margin of error):
- It’s a near 50-50 split on questions surrounding border wall effectiveness and support for “catch-and-release” policies for women, children and families apprehended at the border.
- There’s also no real consensus on whether illegal immigration negatively affects communities. .
- Americans are also divided on whether to grow, decrease or keep immigration levels the same.
The only other area where those polled showed wide consensus was on the question of whether undocumented men traveling alone should be released into the United States if apprehended at the border. More than 66 percent of respondents rejected the idea of such a policy being in place, according to the NewsNation/Decision Desk HQ poll.
“It’s hard to get 60 percent or more of Americans to agree on anything,” Tranter said.
Older voters were even less favorable toward the proposal. More than three-fourths of respondents over the age of 55 said they opposed releasing single men into the country. At the same time, 47% of those between the ages of 18 and 34 said they’d support it.
“If you’re younger, you’re a little bit more lenient on illegal immigrants than if you’re older,” Tranter said. “This poll shows that that divide between the ages is getting a little bigger.”
The NewsNation/Decision Desk HQ poll revealed that the country is also split down the middle on the issue of border security. About 51 percent of responders felt the border wall was effective at preventing illegal immigration.
The polarization of views on the southern border, security and policies around undocumented immigrants has only widened as the situation at the border has grown more tense. Last year, a record-breaking 1.7 million people were arrested at the border. By this spring, U.S. border officials are projected to make as many as 9,000 border arrests per day, a number significantly higher than last year’s peak.
The southern border barrier was never finished — construction was halted when the Biden administration took power — leaving miles-long stretches of fenceless borderland. In Yuma, Arizona, border officials say massive gaps in the border wall allow for up to 1,000 migrants to enter the country each day. However, immigration experts disagree with the wall’s effectiveness.
“There’s no evidence that a border build-up is necessarily keeping people from coming,” Gleeson said. “What it does have a lot of impact on is how lethal that journey is, and also the amount of human trafficking and crime related to the kind of smuggling that has emerged.”
Despite the divide, the poll shows there was much more support (48%) for increasing spending on border security, rather than cutting funding (20%).
The political sphere bears a lot of responsibility for how immigration is framed as a public debate, Gleeson said.
“I don’t think that public opinion necessarily should be kind of the main litmus test for what kind of policies we’re willing to stomach at the federal level,” Gleeson said.