The Public Religion Research Institute and the Brookings Institution have a new report out taking the public’s temperature on immigration reform, and the findings are pretty dispiriting. To put it simply: (quite nearly) everyone wants immigration reform, but it’s not happening because of the disproportionately large influence of a small, determined minority.
According to the report, a full 62 percent of America favors allowing undocumented immigrants to become citizens if they meet certain requirements. Support for that policy outcome isn’t just broad, it’s also bipartisan: 70 percent of Democrats favor it, 51 percent of Republicans, and 61 percent of independents. The opposition comes from self-identified Tea Partyers, who are split evenly between citizenship and deportation, with 37 percent backing each policy outcome.
Here’s how the report describes this oppositional group:
Americans who support deportation represent a distinct minority in the U.S., and they have a unique political, social and demographic profile. Compared to Americans overall, they are roughly twice as likely to be members of the Tea Party movement (24% vs. 12%) and significantly more likely to identify as Republican (36% vs. 23%).
Americans who favor deportation are more likely to be white and tend to be older than Americans overall. Nearly 8-in-10 (79%) Americans who say immigrants in the U.S. illegally should be deported are white, while 10% are black and only 2% are Hispanic. Close to 6-in-10 (57%) Americans who support deportation are over the age of 50, compared to 46% of Americans overall.
Also worth noting is the report’s finding that trust in Fox News tends to be a fairly strong predictor not just of support for mass deportations, but also for enmity toward immigrants and misinformation about immigration policy in general. According to the report, “the most trusted news source for deportation supporters is Fox News, with more than 4-in-10 (41%) saying it is the television news source they trust the most to provide accurate information about politics and current events.” The report also found that people who trust Fox as their go-to news source are more likely to believe that immigrants are a burden on American society and a threat to American culture.
Old, white, Tea Party Republicans who love Fox News want to deport immigrants rather than give them a path the citizenship, and they are the group whose interests are impeding progress on reform. The House Republican leadership may evince a (verbal) commitment to immigration reform, but the rank-and-file are all about enforcement, and their opposition is rooted in the belief that border security and deportations will be given short shrift in any reform proposal.
The truly sad part about all this is that the White House also played to the concerns of this minority and boosted the rate of deportations to levels never before seen. The human cost of the policy was steep, but President Obama made the political calculation that being tough on enforcement would get him the political support he needed from Republicans and conservatives to move a reform bill through Congress. He was wrong, and he’s paid for it. According to the PRRI/Brookings report, Obama’s approval rating among Hispanics has plummeted over the past year, dropping from 72 percent to 51 percent.
Now, with immigration reform officially off the House agenda for June, prospects for passing any sort of legislation are essentially nil. The tragic policy choices and extended political wrangling meant to placate an implacable minority of conservatives has been all for naught, and the only thing the major political players have to show for their efforts is diminished approval ratings.