Where the Public Stands on Immigration Reform

Recently the Obama administration announced that it will push for legislation next year to overhaul the nation's immigration system. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said that the administration will argue for what she called a "three-legged stool" including stricter enforcement, a "tough and fair pathway to earned legal status" for undocumented immigrants already in the U.S., and a more efficient process for legal immigration.

How is the public likely to react to this new push? Since 2007 when the Bush administration failed in its effort to build a coalition in support of comprehensive reform, the issue has been relatively dormant. Pew Research polling has found significant public support for both tougher enforcement and the so-called "path to citizenship," but several factors suggest that the debate could be a difficult one.

First, if the experience of 2007 is any guide, opposition to setting up a process for undocumented immigrants to achieve citizenship may be more intense – even if less widespread – than support for it. Second, the nation's economic situation is significantly worse than it was when the issue was debated in 2006 and 2007. Some Republican lawmakers reacted to Secretary Napolitano's speech by raising concerns about the competition for jobs posed by foreign-born workers. More generally, partisan differences on the issue have grown since two years ago, potentially making it more difficult to achieve a consensus in Congress. And third, as the debate over health care reform has shown, there is considerable public anxiety right now about the scope of the federal government's activities and its capacity to undertake major policy changes.

Read the full report Where the Public Stands on Immigration Reform on the Pew Research Center's Web site.

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