Tapping the common sense on immigration


Kull is Program Director of the Program for Public Consultation.

Lewitus is a Research Analyst at Voice of the People whose research interests focus on policy, public opinion and democracy reform.

Thomas is Vice President of Voice of the People and Director of Voice of the People Action. Thomas is an organizer and government relations professional with years of experience working in campaigns, advocacy, and policy research.

As we know all too well, the federal government has failed to address many problems facing our nation, largely due to increasing partisan polarization that results in near-constant gridlock. Some speculate this polarization is a reflection of the American public. However, what we have found in our public opinion research is that majorities of Republicans and Democrats actually agree on numerous policies – nearly 200 common ground proposals.

One of the most contentious areas of partisan head-butting in Congress over the last decade has been national immigration policy. In the national debate, each side has seemingly opposite and mutually exclusive priorities and solutions. Among the public, however, the story is quite different. There is substantial bipartisan agreement on a number of major proposals.

There are currently around 11 million undocumented immigrants living, and often working, in the U.S. Not since 1986 under President Reagan has the U.S. provided a path to citizenship to such people. In 2013, another major effort was made, when a bipartisan group of Congresspeople introduced a bill that would provide a path to citizenship to most undocumented people. Due to the usual Congressional gridlock, it never even received a vote in the House despite passing in the Senate. This proposal is popular among the public. A bipartisan majority of 74% support a path to citizenship for undocumented persons who do not have a criminal record and have been here for several years, including 55% of Republicans and 92% of Democrats. Pew Research Center’s 2020 poll on the same proposal found nearly identical results: 75% in support nationally, including 57% of Republicans and 89% of Democrats.

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Providing a path to citizenship to those brought to the U.S. illegally as children, also known as Dreamers, is favored by an even larger bipartisan majority of eight-in-ten, including 69% of Republicans and 92% of Democrats. This proposal has had the backing of both Republican and Democratic Congresspeople, and has passed the House with bipartisan support, but did not get a vote in the Senate. Pew Research Center found similar bipartisan support.

How to reduce the number of illegal entries into the U.S. has been one of the most animated sources of disagreement between the parties. Proposals that focus on border security do not get partisan agreement among the public. Building a border wall is opposed by a majority (59%), including 85% of Democrats, but a majority of Republicans favor it (74%). When it comes to funding for border security in general, standard polling has found a majority of 53% believe we are spending too little, including 85% of Republicans, but a large majority of Democrats said we’re spending about the right amount or too much. (AP-NORC poll, March 2023)

However, other proposals that aim to reduce illegal entries do get bipartisan support. Many people enter the U.S. seeking work and many U.S. companies seek out migrant labor. Requiring employers to run checks on all current and future employees to ensure they are legally able to work in the U.S., using the E-Verify system already in place, is supported by a bipartisan 73% (Republicans 80%, Democrats 68%). The 2013 effort at immigration reform also included this E-Verify mandate. Legislation since then has included this proposal, but has never received a vote as a stand-alone proposal.

Bringing more undocumented workers into the legal system has been another proposed strategy to reduce the number of people who are undocumented in the U.S. By better matching the number of work visas to the demand for labor, the argument goes, employers will be able to legally hire more migrants for jobs that most citizens do not want, many of which are seasonal. A bipartisan 69% support tripling the number of temporary non-farm work visas (Republicans 73%, Democrats 67%). Bipartisan majorities also support more general proposals to increase the number of visas for lower-skilled labor (National 77%, Republicans 66%, Democrats 87%), and for higher-skilled labor (National 80%, Republicans 72%, Democrats 86%).

The surveys used for this research differ from standard polls in that they provide respondents with background information and pro-con arguments, before they give their recommendation on a concrete policy tied to real legislation or executive action. These surveys come from the Program for Public Consultation at the University of Maryland, and the Deliberative Democracy Lab at Stanford University. A full list of common ground policies has been compiled as part of Voice of the People’s Common Ground of the American People project.


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