Messaging and Public Opinion on Immigration Reform

by Karthick Ramakrishnan

May 31, 2009
We started off the survey by asking respondents to rank the seriousness of the issue of illegal immigration. Respondents were first asked to rate the seriousness of the issue with respect to the United States, and then in relation to their city or community.
  • Americans are much more likely to see illegal immigration as a serious problem when thinking about the entire United States as the frame of reference, rather than more local contexts such as cities and communities.
  • American citizens are overwhelmingly in favor of cutting down on the backlog (legal immigrants often have to wait for 5 years before being able to reunite with their spouses or children) when it involves family reunification. 65 percent would support such a proposal, with about one if four citizens strongly supporting such measures.
  • An overwhelming majority of American citizens support the Dream Act (75%). Support is strong across all regions of the United States, and even among Republicans, 63% support the measure.
  • In general, a majority of the American public has either favored a decrease in immigration or a maintenance of the status quo. However, we also find that the mere mention of the word "visa" -- regardless of whether it relates to family-based visas or high-skilled visas -- leads to a significant decrease in restrictionist preferences.
  • We asked whether people agreed or disagreed with the notion that local governments should: a) require immigrants to verify their legal status, or b) guarantee access to all residents, regardless of their immigrant or legal status. We found that the language of guaranteeing access to all residents does lead to greater support for immigrant access to public benefits.
  • We find no significant difference between the frame of "people" versus "immigrant." However, regardless of the frame used, only a minority of Americans agree with the decision to curtail access to lawyers for those contesting deportation.
  • Americans are much more likely to favor a suspension of federal raids of immigrants' homes (41%) than the places where they work (29%).
  • Americans are generally opposed to suspending the use of E-verify (39% overall), although one in four remain ambivalent on the issue.
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