Public increases support for reform on immigration

Recent polls indicate a dramatic shift in public opinion favoring immigration reform with a sizable majority crossing the lines of race, political party, region and age.

According to the non-partisan Pew Research Center, from 1994 to 2014 the percentage of Americans who believe immigrants are a burden on the country dropped drastically, down over 25 percent. In 2014, only 35 percent of Americans polled said immigrants pose a burden.

In 2010, 70 percent of Americans were in favor of the proposed Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM Act), according to a poll by First Focus, a bipartisan advocacy group dedicated to making children and families the priority in policy and budget decisions.

But party politics is still a huge barrier to passing immigration reform.

The DREAM Act, first introduced in 2001, did not pass Congress “because it was wrapped into comprehensive immigration reform and was not a stand-alone bill,” said Teresa Greene Sterling, a professor at Arizona State University and a researcher who writes about Arizona immigration laws.

“I think the Republicans might support some version of the DREAM Act, but they would want to take the lead on it and not pass a Democratic bill,” she said.

“Republicans see immigration reform as giving rights to people who have broken the law and they shouldn’t let them slip under it,” said Alex Nowrasteh, an Immigration Policy Analyst at the Libertarian CATO Institute.

In a January poll conducted by The Associated Press and Society for Consumer Research, 76 percent of Democrats supported young undocumented immigrants being able to attend college in the U.S.; 49 percent of Republicans were in favor of the concept.

A recent split has surfaced among Republicans when it comes to immigration reform, Nowrasteh said, “Republicans who are libertarian notice that immigration reform laws will take them back to the days when they had support of the Hispanics.”

Immigration reform is a hot-button issue in the upcoming midterm elections. Most Democrats continue to support reform, while some Republicans are trying to switch from an anti-immigration platform to one that supports some undocumented immigrants.

According to a Gallup poll, younger adults are more likely to support the DREAM Act. Sixty percent of adults from ages 18 to 49 and 47 percent older than 50 support the DREAM Act. The immigrants coming to the country are beginning to have relationships with the younger end of the population, particularly 18 to 34 year olds.

The difference is that “the normal human reaction is to become more skeptical over time which results in a conservative point of view,” Nowrasteh said.

Now, 91 percent of Hispanics want Congress to pass the DREAM Act, according to a Pew survey in July 2012, but those numbers decline for future immigrants.

According to a Gallup poll in 2011, just 47 percent of non-Hispanic whites are in favor of the DREAM Act. Moreno said that’s because it’s an issue that doesn’t affect them directly.

“Immigrant groups have a long tradition of the ‘shut the door behind you’ immigration policy,” said Dario Moreno, a Florida International University professor specializing in Cuban politics and foreign relations. “Hispanics have been part of the immigration experience and whites have forgotten how that experience was.”

2011 poll indicated that northeastern and western United States are strongly in favor of passing the DREAM Act, with 71 percent and 76 percent, respectively, while the Midwest and South are less receptive with 65 percent and 69 percent.

“Areas that are diverse and have a history of immigration tend to support the DREAM Act,” said Mark R. Schlakman, a human rights law specialist at Florida State University. “It’s not just the geographical location that factors in.”

With 20 states approving in-state tuition for certain undocumented students, and the president ordering the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), only Congress stands in the way of a national DREAM Act.

Despite growing support, most of the public does not regard the DREAM Act as a final solution to America’s immigration crisis. There are many larger that have to be resolved before any national consensus.

Wendi Adelson, immigration lawyer and Florida State University law professor, said solutions might include “issuing more H-1B visas, temporary employment visas for specialty occupations, hiring more immigration judges and most importantly labeling these undocumented juvenile immigrants as refugees and not illegal.”