Majority Of Americans Want A Faster Path To Citizenship Than Lawmakers Will Allow

A new NBC/WSJ poll, released before the Senate gang of eight unveils their expected immigration reform legislation, finds 64 percent of Americans support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. The shift toward greater tolerance of immigrants has happened quickly; in a 2010 survey, fewer than half of respondents agreed with the statement that immigration strengthens the nation’s character by bringing diversity and talent to the country. Now, the same statement garners 54 percent support.

Though a slight majority of Republican respondents initially opposed citizenship, 73 percent of them supported it if undocumented immigrants would have to pass a security background check and pay fines and back taxes as part of the path.

The bipartisan group of senators working on immigration reform are reportedly considering a 13-year timeline, putting them at odds with the 51 percent of all respondents who would make undocumented immigrants eligible for citizenship after 5 years. Just 12 percent believe eligibility should occur after 10 years.

Republican lawmakers, however, are not evolving on immigration as quickly as the public is. Some lawmakers refuse to support any path to citizenship, which they consider a “form of amnesty.” This Republican hostility to immigrants may be the reason why the NBC/WSJ poll found people preferred the Democratic Party on immigration issues by 7 points. That advantage rose to 26 points when the poll oversampled for Latinos, a group the GOP has been trying to court since the election.

The path to citizenship is expected to be the centerpiece of the immigration reform plan, despite remaining opposition from Republican lawmakers. Granting citizenship after 5 years, as the majority of poll respondents support, would provide a boost of $1.1 trillion in economic growth, contribute $144 billion more in taxes, and add $618 billion to all American incomes.