Americans divided over immigration reform
April 3rd, 2013
01:00 PM ET

Americans divided over immigration reform

By Bruce Stokes, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Bruce Stokes is director of global economic attitudes at the Pew Research Center. The views expressed are his own.

For those Indians, Chinese and others with advanced degrees who have been waiting years for a U.S. employment-based visa, the prospect of American immigration reform this year may yet prove a siren call. The fact is that despite the political rhetoric emanating from Washington, and press reports of an immigration deal shaping up in the U.S. Senate, U.S. immigration reform is not a priority for many Americans – especially some in the Republican Party.

“The time has come to pass comprehensive immigration reform,” said U.S. President Barack Obama in his State of the Union address in February. Many Republican Congressional leaders now see the need for liberalizing visa requirements, after once opposing such measures, as a self-preservation move for their party, which is losing ground among Hispanics and Asian Americans. Organized labor and the business community have apparently struck a deal on work permits. And the public would like to see change in principle. The trouble is there is just no consensus on the details, which are devilishly complicated.

Uncle Sam’s immigration queue suggests change is long overdue. The family reunification visa waiting list for unmarried Mexican-born sons and daughters of U.S. citizens is now nearly 20 years long, while for Indians and Chinese it is seven years. For the Indian-born brothers and sisters of adult U.S. citizens it is 12 years. The employment-based visa waiting list for Chinese skilled workers and professionals is six years. Moreover, there are an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States, many if not most of whom would like visas and a path to citizenship.

But despite the political impetus behind immigration reform, such change still faces an uphill fight with the American public. Americans are much more interested in seeing Washington strengthen the economy and cut the budget deficit. And this relative disinterest may accord added leverage to many Republicans who remain troubled by the cultural implications of greater immigration and do not support an easier path to citizenship.

More from GPS: How America can fix immigration

Immigration reform is now on the front burner in Washington because in the 2012 election 10 percent of American voters were Hispanics and 71 percent of them voted for Obama. Moreover, Asian Americans, who account for only 3 percent of the electorate but are the most rapidly growing minority group, gave 73 percent of their votes to the Democratic standard bearer. With their party drawing an overwhelming share of its support from whites in 2012, while nearly half of the Democratic Party is comprised of ethnic minorities, Republican candidates need to attract immigrant voters.

Seven-in-ten Americans say there should be a way for people in the United States illegally to remain in this country if they meet certain requirements, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. But only 43 percent think they should be allowed to apply for citizenship.

And immigration reform is anyway not a top priority for most Americans, according to  another Pew Research Center survey. A little over half think the federal budget crisis is the most essential issue for the president and Congress to act on in 2013. Just 16 percent accord that priority to immigration reform.

The same survey found that while 70 percent of the public say that it is essential to pass a major deficit reduction bill this year, only half of the public believes it is crucial to enact major immigration legislation this year.

Moreover, Americans disagree on the details of what should be contained in that legislation. Just a quarter say the priority should be given to creating a way for illegal immigrants already in the country to become citizens if they meet certain requirements, while almost half think equal weight should be given to better border security and stronger enforcement of immigration laws.

And just 11 percent of Republicans see a path to citizenship as the most important issue, while 43 percent say it’s tighter border security. Moreover, Pew Research Center polling going back to 1992 shows that roughly eight-in-ten Republicans have consistently held the belief that the United States should impose more restrictions and controls on the number of people coming into the country.

In part, this reflects Republicans’ discomfort with immigrants: 58 percent think the growing number of newcomers threaten American values according to a recent Pew Research survey. By comparison, 61 percent of Democrats see no such threat. Notably, this partisan gap in perception has grown over the last decade.

One matter where Republicans and Democrats may find common ground is on the issue of visas for highly skilled immigrants, a small proportion of all annual visas. Strong majorities of both Republicans (67 percent) and Democrats (79 percent) back making it easier for legal immigrants who have advanced skills in technology and science to come to America, according to a Gallup survey released in January.

But even that issue may be less controversial in theory than it is in practice. Among the top ten users of the H-1B visa for skilled workers, which account for nearly half of all such visas issued, only 2.9 of their H-1B recipients go on to get a green card and contribute to the U.S. economy in the long run.

The immigration debate in Washington is likely to heat up in the weeks ahead. Indians, Chinese and others either hoping to migrate to America (even those with advanced skills) or those with loved ones living illegally and precariously within the United States should realize that despite largely supportive rhetoric emanating from both Congress and the White House, the U.S. public remains divided over immigration reform.

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Topics: Immigration • United States

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soundoff (40 Responses)
  1. JAL

    I like the ideas given in the new legislation efforts for immigration reform by the US congress. This is a stress reducer.

    April 3, 2013 at 1:18 pm |
    • ohmygod50

      I want immigrants who come to this country and have worked for yrs to be able to become citizens.

      I do reject the notion that included in the immigration legislation are these H1B Visas............ha ha ha ha ha ha ha

      Beware the Gang of 8........THEY TELL LIES.

      "No Americans are being replaced by these H1B (INDIAN) holders.......

      Ask the hundreds of IT people from UBS that were FIRED over the past 5 months. All replaced by H1B visa holders....all Indians......all placed in apartments in Jersey City by Cognizant or IBM....all with the blessing of UBS, a SWISS Bank that the American taxpayers bailed out............EXPLAIN HOW THIS WORKS?????

      April 9, 2013 at 12:40 am |
      • Panky

        Sure, then bring illigal Hispanic to do that job... Ha ha ha ....

        May 14, 2013 at 10:10 pm |
  2. Leon Buenavida

    You are so right. The only way to ease immigration lines is to allow free and open access to anyone who wants to come here so long as they meet a few basic requirements. This could double the population within 10 years, promote ethnic and religious diversity, raise real estate prices and spur unprecedented economic growth.

    April 3, 2013 at 1:33 pm |
    • Anonomous

      Where have you been? We already have ethnic and religious diversity, and where are we going to put another 350,000,000 people? The job I work at only hires illegal aliens that never seem to show up on time, but we have americans that come in all the time looking for work and we never hire them. It makes me sick and I wish I could do something about, everyone is going to have a different opinion and this is why I'm not for this bill. My question is how are they going to determine if an immigrant has been in the country for 10 years Illegal? Could they come over here and then say they've been here for years?

      April 17, 2013 at 4:24 pm |
    • America is Doomed


      April 29, 2013 at 6:45 pm |
  3. deniz boro

    It is almost 500 years too late to talk about immigrants to USA. BUt maybe the newcommers of the land may honor their fathers.

    April 3, 2013 at 5:02 pm |
    • English 201

      I'm not exactly sure where you got that number from, but it is never too late to talk about immigration. Immigration is an important part of our country's history, and a problem is not going to be solved by simply not talking about it or pretending it doesn't exist. Open conversation on all policy issues should take place so that all the viable options can be weighed and the best decision for all can be made. Having open discussion on policy issues, like immigration, is should be done so long as it is done is a civilized, sensitive manner.

      April 12, 2013 at 5:34 pm |
  4. deniz boro

    Foudation of America was on the united force of peoples from different lands. Some of them were outcasts. They did form a land where their sons and daughters prospered to ask these questions. Do go back to your roths and please do not forget the road that took you here.

    April 3, 2013 at 5:10 pm |
  5. j. von hettlingen

    Perhaps there's an undercurrent of resentment toward the immigration issue since the 9/11 terrorist attacks here in the US. The economic downturn plays another major role. Indeed, the US is no longer the same land for immigrants as it was a century ago.

    April 3, 2013 at 6:09 pm |
  6. NBR

    It is very sad, that Skilled Legal Immigrants from Indian origin has long
-wait time to obtain Green Card, no politician addressing this issue due to low vote bank from Indian origin.

    April 3, 2013 at 8:09 pm |
  7. Heisenberg

    The current immigration laws across the Western world are part of a larger program of genocide against White folk. Non-Whites are flooded into every White country and force integrated and assimilated with the White population. Whites have no choice but to accept (and "celebrate") diversity. African and Asian countries are not expected to be force blended out of existence. Only Whites are denied the right to spaces of our own. This is genocide.

    April 3, 2013 at 9:55 pm |
    • Reality

      The iphone that you might have used to write this comment, or the very laptop you just typed on was because of the hard work of hundreds of immigrant tech workers. I really do not think there is any genocide. This country can only be economically feasible if new technology develops and leads to a better economy.

      The current state of high school education is so rotten when compared to the stuff those asians are learning back home in their countries. I think encouraging your kids to study better is the need of the hour.

      April 3, 2013 at 10:19 pm |
      • AK

        Our iphones and our macs are actually made at foxconn in shenzhen china

        May 1, 2013 at 10:44 pm |
    • Josh

      SIG HEIL!!!

      April 23, 2013 at 7:35 pm |
    • Josh

      Was that from Hitler's 1929 campaign speech?

      April 23, 2013 at 7:36 pm |
  8. Muin

    Students who come to U.S for study especially in last decade and plan pn coming to U.S is making wrong decisions because they loose network in their own country and obviously U.S employers are not interested because they don't have U.S citizenship. One in a million will sponsor even if you have a bachelor of engineering degree. These students also cross the age limit in their own country to enter the job market. Most countries don't really care for U.S degree anymore unless its a Ph. D. So students need to think through everything before they plan on coming to western countries especially now because there is nothing really special about coming to U.S anymore.

    April 4, 2013 at 4:38 am |
  9. hmmm

    if family is the justification for illegal entry, does that same primary latino rationale apply to cheating in school to get a degree, or any other illegal activity in the name of the family? when you start with a false argument, you must then throw out logic when applying to other situations. therefore, to support illegal entry into u.s. is to throw out the law as it applies to a particular group while everyone else must abide by it.

    April 4, 2013 at 5:34 am |
  10. jefnvk

    "Americans are much more interested in seeing Washington strengthen the economy and cut the budget deficit. "

    You mean, we want our elected officials doing something to fix our problems, instead of fixing the problems that face foreigners wanting to come here? Novel concept...

    April 4, 2013 at 1:58 pm |
  11. Greg

    It's nice they want to bring families together. brothers and sisters but what about men with sons and daughters whose legal wives are being denied visas?
    It seems they are more concerned about allowing illegals into the country than allowing people who go through the proper channels in.
    I know several American citizens whose wife in a foreign country were denied entry due to technicalities, very small things.


    April 4, 2013 at 4:23 pm |
  12. joe

    I don't think americans have a problem with immigration. I think many americans have a problem with Hispanic immigration. This is just a rehash of good old american racism.

    April 4, 2013 at 4:52 pm |
    • JdM


      April 4, 2013 at 6:10 pm |
      • Robert 1344

        The real racists are the employers who refuse to employ low-skilled, educationally handicapped "lazy" American workers in favor of lighter-skinned, "hardworking" legal and illegal immigrants. And the government that turns a blind eye to what they are doing. The coming amnesty is the real racism, throwing American workers, especially blacks, under the bus.

        April 5, 2013 at 11:25 am |
    • selena

      My God Joe i couldnt agree with you more 🙂 well said well said

      April 23, 2013 at 10:27 am |
  13. me

    This article is rhetoric and nothing more.

    April 5, 2013 at 1:02 am |
  14. Galactus98

    NO AMNESTY and NO LEGALIZATION of illegal aliens. We need to deport the 11 million illegal aliens currently living in the United States to make room for the immigrants that we do want.

    April 5, 2013 at 1:05 pm |
    • BobG(Milwaukee)

      Well said. Get them out of the country.

      May 6, 2013 at 2:28 pm |
  15. MtownI

    If the research figures in this article are to be believed, it would seam that the Dems are selling out the majority of their party to gain the minority voter. I didn't think illegal immigrants could vote anyway, so where is their political advantage at the ballot box? Neither party should be viewed as credibly representing the majority opinion of the people, but seam to pander to the pro-illegal side of the issue. The US has no obligation to provide a "better life" for anyone's family, the families of its citizens. Raise the minimum wage, stop exporting jobs, start taxing imports and stop importing people to do the work that can't be exported. The visas that the govmnt wants to issue to higher skilled worker is just an assault on people graduating from college looking for jobs, who would have to compete with imported workers for jobs requiring a degree.

    April 7, 2013 at 12:06 pm |
  16. Richard Long

    Legal immigrants spend thousands of dollars going through the proper process. However, illegal immigrants would get in free? Tell me how is that fair?

    The economy is barely scrapping by and the high unemployment is slowing an form of growth. Let's go ahead and drop 12 million people into the 'job market'

    barack needs to get his moneys worth though under his direction, the FDA has spent millions educating Mexican citizens on how to get EBT cards and apply for ObamaCare.

    April 7, 2013 at 9:26 pm |
    • socalledelitist

      Most illegal immigrants I know do not have thousands of dollars to spend on the process. Thats usually why they risk their lives to cross boarders under the cover of night and risk being deported by living here with fake papers or on expired temp visas. Im by no means condoning these actions but I understand them and it makes me wonder what lengths I would be willing to go through to live in this country if I hadn't been blessed to have been born here. And perhaps all of those complaining about immigrants should try to empathize with them b/c had it not been for fate the shoe could have easily been on the other foot.

      April 15, 2013 at 5:43 pm |
  17. socalledelitist

    There should be comprehensive immigration reforms and a straight forward path towards citizenship for those who have been here for years, as well as for those who come here with the intent of staying. Why make it a long almost decade long process. If a person sends their children to school, purchase a home and work they need to pay taxes and be able to become citizens because at that point its obvious that they have little intension of leaving. It makes no sense to me to turn a blind eye to these people in the hopes they will just fade away. By not having a progressive path toward citizenship well will continue to drive hardworking families who are willing to pay their dues to the fringes of society which will promote crime and exploitation by unscrupulous under the table employers.

    April 15, 2013 at 5:32 pm |
  18. Adam

    This Whole page is Racist

    April 19, 2013 at 9:43 am |
  19. Jay

    Fellow Americans! Are you confident that your job will be secure after passing Immigration reform bill (with increase of H1B VISA's) ? - Think again. I can bet my life on it that all of our jobs will be affected (lost or cut in the pay check).

    Educate yourself more on H1B VISA and impact of you and your family.

    Time to write to your lawmakers to oppose this immigration bill…..Act Now!

    April 19, 2013 at 7:40 pm |
  20. Coleman

    I believe the driving force behind switching from immigration reform to liberation and back again is centered on pushing the agenda of political parties. It is most un-American to view immigration as a societal illness. Immigration is global cornucopia. Most Americans are descendants of immigrants. Why we are only open to immigration when it can influence our political position? Have we ever considered the value of the global citizens caught in the immigration queue?

    April 23, 2013 at 9:50 pm |
  21. Coleman

    I believe the driving force behind switching from immigration reform to liberation and back again is centered on pushing the agenda of political parties. It is most un-American to view immigration as a societal illness. Immigration is a global cornucopia. Most Americans are descendants of immigrants. Why are only open to immigration when it can influence our political position? Have we ever considered the value of the global citizens caught in the immigration queue?

    April 23, 2013 at 9:54 pm |
  22. ward

    this country is way to far gone !! wait till the mexicans competely take over !! they wont be able to manage any thing , and it will be so much worse !! NOTHING MORE THEN WHER THEY CAME FROM !!THEY WILL BE THE LARGEST RACE TO SUFFER !! ENJOY YOUR TIME MEXICANS ,IT WILL BE SHORT LIVED !! THE FUNNY WHITE MAN FROM VEGAS ,IS LAUGHING !! AT ALL YOU LOW I.Q. HUMANOIDE CACOROACHES !!!!!!!!!!! NO ONE CAN LIKE A MEXICAN !!

    May 1, 2013 at 2:30 am |
    • Disgusted

      Ward, I am so sorry to see how completely ignorant you are.

      May 2, 2013 at 6:39 pm |
      • ward

        i believe its the other way around !!! you have to be a mexican , or a dumb liberal !! it reall does not matter ! people like you are the reason the u,s is doomed !!

        May 3, 2013 at 12:51 am |
  23. Panks

    71% of 10% Hispanic votes vote for Obama, so make them legal though they came as illegal in US. and ppl who came here legally and paying Taxes and not getting any federal benefits, has to wait for long time. It very bad and taking US to wrong direction.

    May 14, 2013 at 10:15 pm |

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