The Washington Post's Aaron Blake spots a paradox in immigration polling:
Breaking: Americans support a path to citizenship.Blake has a couple of theories:
About six in 10 support a new pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, according to a new poll from NBC News and Wall Street Journal. And that number jumps to a whopping 74 percent if you qualify that the undocumented immigrants must take steps like paying back taxes.
The very same poll, though, also asked people whether they support legal status -- shy of citizenship -- for illegal immigrants. Support for this, somewhat amazingly, is just 39 percent, with 48 percent opposed.
In other words, huge majorities support a path to citizenship. But on a path to legal status, it's reversed.
Why the support for citizenship but not legal status? Your guess is as good as ours. Maybe people don't like the idea of two classes of Americans. Maybe they think of citizenship as something that is earned, and legal status as something that is bestowed without cost to the beneficiary.I think it might have to do with the wording of the questions, and with what Americans want from government. In the NBC/Journal poll (PDF), the questions about the path to citizenship describe what seems to be a long process. The main question contains the word "eventually." The follow-up describes a lot of hoops for immigrants to jump through:
Q23 Now, as you may know, there is a proposal to create a pathway to citizenship that would allow foreigners staying illegally in the United States the opportunity to eventually become legal American citizens. Do you (ROTATE TOP TO BOTTOM/BOTTOM TO TOP) strongly favor, somewhat favor, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose this proposal?Those are the proposals favored by, respectively, 57% and 74% of poll respondents. They describe gradual processes.
And, thinking some more about this...
Q24 If a proposed pathway to citizenship allowed foreigners staying illegally in the United States the opportunity to eventually become legal American citizens if they pay a fine, any back taxes, pass a security background check, and take other required steps, would you (ROTATE TOP TO BOTTOM/BOTTOM TO TOP) strongly favor, somewhat favor, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose this proposal?
Now compare this:
Q21 Next, I'm going to read you several actions the next Congress could take. For each one, please tell me whether you would strongly support this action, mildly support this action, feel neutral about it, mildly oppose it, or strongly oppose this action....This has 39% approval, 48% disapproval.
Creating legal status for some immigrants who are here illegally
The key word here, I think, is "creating." Americans don't want us to just give undocumented immigrants stuff. We want to watch them earn it. And we don't want anything to happen rapidly -- it upsets us. We have all kinds of problems in this country, and we're furious at the government for failing to address them, but then we seem to get upset at most proposals that actually do address our problems, because they disrupt the status quo, partly in ways that make us uncomfortable. So we get as angry when solutions seem to be imminent as we are when no solutions seem to be imminent.
I'd also point out that in a September Washington Post/ABC poll, the following question was asked:
Q: If Congress does not act to address the immigration issue, do you think Obama should or should not take action on his own through executive orders?In that poll two months ago, 52% of respondents said the president should act, and 44% said he shouldn't. But in the NBC/Journal poll -- now that we know executive action is imminent -- 38% approve it and 48% disapprove it. It's as if, as action gets closer, suddenly we don't want action. We want the problems solved, but solutions, or partial solutions, upset us.
Is that it? Well, it's a theory. Your guess is as good as mine.