Cennamology Chief Editor
The nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institution at the center-left Brookings Institution commissioned a poll that found that 62 percent of Americans support a pathway to citizenship for immigrants already living here. Believe it or not, this poll did not disproportionally sample Democrats!
The poll found that the pathway to citizenship is supported by a majority of Democrats, Independents, and Republicans - each group supporting the policy 70 percent, 61 percent, and 51 percent respectively. Despite these numbers Congress is still not budging on the issue.
The poll did not define specific conditions required to obtain a pathway to citizenship, but did find that the majority of Americans support the pathway "with requirements." Requirements often proposed for granting a pathway to citizenship include background checks, payment of back taxes, and proficiency in English.
With Congress's approval rating in the single digits in many polls, one would think that this would be a good avenue for members to pursue in order to tick those ratings up and get some positive news coverage for a change. Last summer, the Democratic-led Senate passed an overhaul of our currently flawed immigration system that included the pathway to citizenship for millions (now estimated at 11.4 million) undocumented immigrants.
However, this legislation supported by a majority of the American public has gained almost no ground in the Republican-led House of Representatives. Many have labeled the bill "amnesty," a word that has been overused and cheapened to the point where it can now be defined as anything short of total deportation. It is a shame that the definition of the word "amnesty" has rapidly broadened to the point where I am doubtful that most Americans even know what "amnesty" is. The word "amnesty" is a buzzword in Republican primaries, and if the voters have an inkling that you have a favorable opinion of the boogey man that is "amnesty," then you may lose your reelection bid.
For the record, "amnesty" is defined in the Merriam Webster Dictionary as "pardon: a general pardon for those who have committed crimes." None of the proposed legislation lets anyone here illegally off scot-free, as there are still a number of requirements prospective citizens must still meet in order to gain legal status. The absence of deportation or imprisonment is not what "amnesty" is in this situation. Immigration reform does not mean that all immigrants will automatically become citizens, it just simplifies that extraordinarily draconian and complex process in becoming an American citizen for those not born in this country. If the pathway to citizenship becomes law, the millions of immigrants in this country will not instantly become citizens at the sign of a pen. It seems that many of those afraid of "amnesty" do not know this.
The DREAM Act is considered "amnesty" by many Republican primary voters, despite the fact that the DREAM Act benefits immigrants who, while not technically citizens, have grown up in this country and know no other home but this country. The DREAM Act ensures that the children of illegal immigrants are not punished for their parents' mistakes. This is not "amnesty," this is common decency.
The DREAM Act makes sure that we do not send brilliant minds that grew up in the United States back to their home countries. We want these people here to contribute and innovate in America, not in the lands of our competitors. A non-citizen who is an American in the heart and mind should not be sent home while he or she should be in college. People realize this, and that is why the DREAM Act is popular. In fact, Maryland's version of the DREAM Act received a higher percentage of the vote in favor of it in the 2012 election than even marriage equality did.
Despite the poll showing vast support, it is evident that immigration reform will still be an issue that Republicans take a hardline position against in the coming years. Even though the same poll found that a mere 21 percent of GOP voters said they would be more likely to support an anti-immigration reform candidate and 46 percent said they would be less likely to support an anti-immigration candidate, supporting immigration reform may still be a risk more than a benefit to Republican incumbents. These numbers should indicate that supporting immigration reform will not be an albatross for Republicans in their primaries, but one major primary upset this cycle may show otherwise. The poll numbers are one thing, but actual results are another.
Majority Leader Eric Cantor's loss in the Republican primary for Virginia's 7th District, despite being a blessing in disguise as Cantor is a partisan hack and Congress will be better off without him, may scare Republicans away from supporting anything that will benefit immigrants. The word "stunner" and "shocker," may be cliché, but they certainly describe the outcome of this race, which is one of the biggest political upsets that I can remember.
Cantor, while hardly sympathetic towards immigrants, may have unwittingly did himself in after indicating that some progress may be in the works on immigration. Cantor supported a "Republican version" of the DREAM Act, and was open to granting citizenship to those immigrants who have enlisted in the military (this was a stripped down version of a Democratic bill that included citizenship for immigrants in college as well as the military). In the minutes after Cantor's loss, commentators declared immigration as the driving issue of this race.
To Republican incumbents, the results of the Public Religion Research's poll mean nothing, and Cantor's loss will only confirm this. Republican voters are quite different from Republican primary voters. Possible future research on this subject should poll Republican primary voters compared to registered Republicans as a whole. The moderates who are in favor of immigration reform are not the voters who are fired up. The ideologues are the ones who are showing up to the polls. Cantor's primary had pitifully low turnout, and it is clear that the pro-immigration moderates stayed home.
As the mailers for Cantor's and his challenger's campaigns indicate, immigration was the central issue in this primary battle, with both candidates sending mailers trying to assure voters how anti-immigration they are. The shocking results of this race may lead to another ten years of a broken immigration system. Cowardly Republicans will be too scared to do what is right in order to hold on to their seats in Congress, and citizens and non-citizens alike will suffer.