What's Driving Opinions of Immigration Reform
"Supporters of a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants are unlikely to find a moment more
favorable to the case they have to make."
That is the reaction of E. J. Dionne Jr. and William Galston to a survey of public sentiment on the issues surrounding immigration reform. The survey, conducted by the Public Religion Research Institution with Brookings, finds broad support for immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship or legal residency among many different groups and demographics:
The topline results are so favorable to comprehensive immigration reform -- with Republicans favoring some sort of legal status for illegal immigrants by a 2-1 ratio -- that it raises the question of where the opposition to such a policy comes from.
One place to start is that support for stricter anti-illegal immigration measures is strongest among those who identify as Tea Partiers:
The Brookings scholars indicate that the differences between Republicans and Tea Party members and Democrats on immigration issues "cluster into two areas: pragmatic-legal vs. cultural-religious values."
Members of the GOP are more likely to place importance on the pragmatic-legal values of promoting national security, enforcing the rule of law, and ensuring fairness to taxpayers."
Republican concern for legal and pragmatic considerations is particularly noteworthy in light of another finding that Dionne and Galston highlight: nostalgia isn't limited to white men (i.e., the group most likely to affiliate with the Republican Party). Women are actually more likely to think that American culture has gone downhill since the 1950s than men are. And roughly 40 percent of both hispanic and black Americans share that perception.
So while the GOP's or the Tea Party's opposition to a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants (to the limited extent such opposition exists) may be driven by "nostalgia," it appears that there are other factors at work, given the generally high levels of similar sentiment among demographic groups that don't overlap much with the Republican Party.
Another interesting and possibly related note is that Republican support for a path to citizenship is lowest, and support for deportation of illegal immigration the highest, in the South. Republicans from the West, which includes border states and states with higher proportions of Hispanic residents, are no more likely to oppose a path to citizenship and are less likely favor deportation of illegal immigrants. (It would be helpful to see the data separated by state, to distinguish the views of Republicans in states most affected by illegal immigration, such as Arizona and New Mexico, from those in other western states like Oregon.)
Dionne and Galston conclude that "the prevailing conception of the white working class has been shaped by those who are often the most vocal members of the group, and they are often older and hail from the South." Once today's older southern Republicans lose their influence within the GOP, Dionne and Galston suggest, the party's disposition toward immigration reform will change.