If it's in the News, it's in our Polls. Public opinion polling since 2003.

 

What Americans Want in Immigration

A Commentary By Froma Harrop

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Immigration is said to be a divisive issue, but it really isn't. Large majorities of Americans favor legal immigration, and large majorities oppose illegal immigration.

But the failure to control the process has created a tiger that periodically pounces onto the national stage. John McCain and Barack Obama both have their positions on immigration -- many similar, some different. And as always with this issue, the details are everything.

John McCain is forever linked to the sweeping immigration reform that went down in flames last year and which Obama also backed. It promised to beef up enforcement of immigration law and put 12 million illegal aliens on the path to citizenship. The fatal flaw in the "grand bargain" was not its two-pronged approach, but its inability to convince voters that the enforcement part would be respected. (They were right to be skeptical.)

McCain's move to an enforcement-first stance thus better fits popular sentiment. A recent Rasmussen Reports poll finds American voters believing, by a 63 percent to 28 percent margin, that it's more important to control the border than resolve the status of people here illegally. Obama doesn't back "enforcement first." Like McCain, he does endorse two essential ingredients for applying the law: an electronic system to verify a job applicant's right to work in the United States and stiffer penalties on employers who hire illegals. But our history with immigration reform is littered with last-minute sabotaging of enforcement mechanisms. Obama's past support for giving driver's licenses to illegal aliens does not build faith in his desire to seriously apply the law.

Enforcement-first does not necessarily mean enforcement only. Once the public feels confident that the federal government means business about stopping future illegal immigration, it will accept an amnesty for those who came here in more lax times.

One "grand bargain" provision was highly objectionable to everyone but employers of cheap labor: It was a big new temporary-worker program to fill jobs that are not temporary in nature. McCain is still hot for a guest-worker program, and Obama apparently supports some version of it. Too bad. On the plus side, the bill would have moved us away from a family-based system for allocating "green cards" to one that favors workers with needed skills. Point systems based on education are used in Canada and Europe. McCain supports this idea, and Obama opposes it (as do some Latino advocates).

Two of the "tough" positions that the candidates agree on happen to be pointless. Least attractive is their support for the border fence between the United States and Mexico. Nearly half of America's illegal immigrants come here through the front door but overstay their visas. The only serious way to deter illegal immigrants is to crack down on the people who employ them. A fence, wall -- call it what you will -- is an unfortunate symbol to put in the face of our neighbor Mexico. And it's no thing of beauty on this side, either.

Both candidates have signed on to the populist demand that immigrants be able to speak English. But the reality is that few poor immigrants have ever mastered English -- whether they were Germans immigrating to the Dakotas or Italians populating the Little Italys of American cities. You don't need good English to plow fields or cut meat. The important thing is that the immigrants' children learn English. They did it then, and they're obviously doing it now.

There is no demagogue-free zone on immigration, but the direction of majority opinion is pretty clear. Americans can live with another amnesty, as long as it's the last. The rest of the debate, if the candidates want one, is with special interests.

COPYRIGHT 2008 THE PROVIDENCE JOURNAL CO.

DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.

Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports.

See Other Political Commentary.

See Other Commentaries by Froma Harrop.

Rasmussen Reports is a media company specializing in the collection, publication and distribution of public opinion information.

We conduct public opinion polls on a variety of topics to inform our audience on events in the news and other topics of interest. To ensure editorial control and independence, we pay for the polls ourselves and generate revenue through the sale of subscriptions, sponsorships, and advertising. Nightly polling on politics, business and lifestyle topics provides the content to update the Rasmussen Reports web site many times each day. If it's in the news, it's in our polls. Additionally, the data drives a daily update newsletter and various media outlets across the country.

Some information, including the Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll and commentaries are available for free to the general public. Subscriptions are available for $3.95 a month or 34.95 a year that provide subscribers with exclusive access to more than 20 stories per week on upcoming elections, consumer confidence, and issues that affect us all. For those who are really into the numbers, Platinum Members can review demographic crosstabs and a full history of our data.

To learn more about our methodology, click here.