DENVER – President Obama vowed last week to put his political capital behind legislation that would grant immediate legal status to illegal immigrants, and embattled GOP House Speaker John Boehner has signaled that he is open to scheduling a vote on the contentious issue. Yet, despite the apparent Beltway breakthrough, a new survey suggests that a large majority of voters still want to see the border sealed first.
The poll, conducted last week by Rasmussen Reports, reveals a public sharply divided on an Obama-backed immigration plan approved by the Senate in June. The survey also suggests that voters believe lawmakers should only consider legal status for illegal immigrants after the border is secured.
“The U.S. Senate has passed a comprehensive immigration reform plan that would secure the border and prevent future illegal immigration. As part of the plan, those who entered the country illegally but have otherwise obeyed the law would be given legal status to stay in the United States,” those surveyed were told.
When asked, “Do you favor or oppose this plan?”, respondents were evenly split – with 40 percent in favor and 40 percent opposed. Another 20 percent said they were unsure.
Republicans said they were against the controversial plan by a wide 69 to 20 percent margin, while a slim majority of Democrats, 52 percent, said they were for the proposal. Even so, nearly one in three Democrats (29 percent) remain undecided on the question.
A plurality of political independents, 45 percent, said they backed the Senate plan compared to 39 percent who said they were opposed.
The survey also suggested that respondents remain skeptical of plans of plans that blend the immediate legalization of undocumented immigrants with phased-in security enhancements over time — an approach often referred to by supporters as “comprehensive immigration reform” or “earned legalization.”
When asked, “Should those who are now in this country illegally be granted legal status right away or should that come only after the border is secured?”, just 18 percent said legal status should come first. By comparison, more than three times as many respondents, 62 percent, said illegal immigrants should only be given legal status after the border is sealed.
That “security first” approach was preferred by a majority of men (64 percent), women (61 percent), Republicans (84 percent), political independents (70 percent), black respondents (68 percent), whites (62 percent), and those who did not identify themselves as either white or black (62 percent). It was also preferred by a plurality of Democrats (40 percent).
Voters were also more likely to support securing the border first regardless of their age.
Fifty percent of those between 18 and 39 years old backed the “security first” approach, as did 68 percent of those between 40 and 64 years of age, and 69 percent of those 65 and older.
At the same time, the survey showed that few Americans are confident that officials will ever follow through on promises to secure the border.
When asked, how likely it is that the federal government “will actually secure the border and prevent illegal immigration” just five percent of those polled said it was “very likely,” and just 20 percent said it was “somewhat likely.”
By comparison, 65 percent of respondents said it was “not very likely” or “not at all likely” that the federal government will actually secure the border.
“Most voters continue to put more border control first in any immigration reform plan, but fewer than ever trust the federal government to actually control the border if a new plan is passed,” read a Rasmussen summary of the survey findings. “Voters also lean toward a go-slow piece-by-piece approach to immigration reform over a comprehensive bill.”
The Rasmussen Reports national poll of 1,000 likely voters was conducted between October 20 and October 21, and has a margin of error of +/- 3 percentage points.