Obama plans immigration reform while issue remains divisive
When President Barack Obama’s interview with the Des Moines Register editorial board was published on Wednesday, it made headlines not just because of a brief controversy over whether it should be on or off the record — the president ultimately allowed the entire conversation to be on the record — but also because of Obama’s unexpected focus on immigration.
Obama told the editorial board that he was confident he could pass immigration reform in 2013 if he wins reelection. Yet he has not emphasized this issue on the campaign trail, and Reuters/Ipsos polling may explain why: It’s an issue that evokes strong and largely negative responses from the broad population of likely voters. Since July, 58 percent have said they thought American immigration policy is headed in the wrong direction.
At the same time, support for comprehensive immigration reform is a top issue for one of the president’s key support groups, Hispanic voters.
“Since this is off the record, I will just be very blunt,” the president told the newspaper. “Should I win a second term, a big reason I will win a second term is because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community.” Obama said he would press for immigration reform in his second term because “it’s the right thing to do and I’ve cared about this ever since I ran back in 2008.”
After several failed attempts to get the DREAM Act through Congress, Obama in mid-June took executive action that allows hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants who were brought into the United States as children to remain in the country. This policy was included in proposed versions of the DREAM Act. According to Reuters/Ipsos polling since then, 63 percent of likely voters have said most undocumented immigrants should be deported, with a few exceptions, versus 29 percent who believe they should be allowed to stay, with some exceptions.
Fifty-three percent of likely voters believe the federal government should design immigration laws. Paradoxically, in a related question, 62 percent agreed that states “have the right to make laws governing immigration within their borders.” Arizona and Alabama are among the states that have enacted stringent laws, and such measures have support among likely voters: During the summer, almost three-quarters of respondents favored criminal penalties if an undocumented immigrant should “apply for, solicit, or otherwise perform work in the United States,” while 71 percent favored “state laws requiring law enforcement officers to check the immigration status of any person they suspect is in the United States illegally.” Meanwhile, 64 percent supported state laws permitting officers to arrest those who cannot produce immigration documentation.
The Reuters/Ipsos database is now public and searchable here: http://www.tinyurl.com/reuterspoll