The Basic Fault: Why the Senate Bill Can't Be Redeemed, Part 4

By Stanley Renshon on October 28, 2013

One of the basic faults of the Senate's bill can be directly traced how the committee that drafted the legislation was put together. Anyone who didn't start with view that all our current illegal aliens should be given a chance for amnestied legalization and citizenship was excluded.

So were any potential members who did not subscribe to the view that the levels of legal immigration to the United States had to be increased substantially, well beyond their current level of about one million legal immigrants per year.

That was the Senate bill's Second Basic Fault.

The Senate committee's second basic sign-on premise was directly contrary to the repeatedly expressed sentiments of the American public.

There are many examples. Three Roper polls in June 2011, September 2011, and June 2012 found overwhelming support for decreasing immigration levels or keeping them the same. Those numbers were 77 percent in 2012, 73 percent in September 2011, and 78 percent in June of 2011.

A CBS/New York Times poll conducted late 2001 found that 88 percent of the public wanted immigration decreased or kept at their present levels.

A CBS news poll in 1996, found 85 percent wanted to keep immigration level steady or decrease them.

These polls are representative, but must be read with the important caveat. These and similar polls very likely underestimate the degree to which Americans would like to place some limits on high immigration numbers.

Americans are not very knowledgeable about actual immigration numbers, or a wide range of other political numbers for that matter. There are numerous reasons this is the case, including low political interest generally, low interest in a particular issue, delegating information about numbers to trusted surrogates like political parties, and so on.

The point here is that when Americans uniformly say they want immigration levels to "remain the same," they are most likely not aware of the real numbers of legal immigrants who enter the country – approximately one million a year, a level that's continued for over a decade. It's therefore most likely the case that when Americans say they want immigration kept at current levels they are really saying "no more."

Some evidence for this view is contained in a Wall Street Journal report about a study carried out by two well-known political scientists:

Political scientists John Sides of George Washington University and Jack Citrin of the University of California, Berkeley, hypothesized in a working paper that supplying Americans, who typically overestimate the number of immigrants and illegal immigrants among them, with correct numbers would reduce the perceived threat of immigration and change their views. Instead, getting the right number reinforced their views, and even increased their support for letting fewer immigrants into the U.S.

In the attempted rush to satisfy the preferences of those who sat behind closed doors with them, the sponsors and backers of the Senate's bill simply ignored Americans' repeatedly expressed preferences for maintaining or lowering the number of immigrants coming into the county. The people's representatives indeed!

Next: The Basic Fault: Why the Senate Bill Can't Be Redeemed, Part 5