What 'Strong Anti-immigrant Tilt'?

By Stanley Renshon and Stanley Renshon on September 14, 2010

The Los Angeles Times reported yesterday on the latest Quinnipiac University national survey on American opinions about various immigration matters. The title of the article, "Immigration issues hurting Obama, poll finds," reflects the finding that, "By a 60%-to-28% margin, respondents disapproved of the way Obama is handling illegal immigration." What isn't clear is whether the president is losing support because he hasn't been able to sign a "comprehensive immigration bill" allowing the legalization of approximately 11 million illegal immigrants or whether it's because he's proved much less than serious about border control, workplace enforcement, and deportation. Probably both.

But what really catches the eye is content teaser below the title: "The Quinnipiac University national survey also shows a strong anti-immigrant tilt, with respondents favoring an end to the constitutionally guaranteed practice of granting U.S. citizenship to children born of illegal immigrants." (emphasis mine)

The poll is described as having been "carried out during the first week in September, found that respondents had a strong anti-immigrant tilt, favoring, by 68% to 24%, stricter enforcement of immigration laws rather than integrating illegal immigrants into society and, by 48% to 45%, an end to the constitutionally guaranteed practice of granting U.S. citizenship to children born of illegal immigrants." (emphasis mine).

According to the director of the poll Peter A. Brown, "Many Americans want to end 'birthright citizenship,' an issue some Republican senators want to explore through congressional hearings." This was so even though "Voters were told that 'our Constitution and current laws' blessed the practice, and the prospect of having to change one or both apparently doesn't faze them."

Actually, that's not exactly right. There has never been a specific Supreme Court determination of whether the 14th amendment applies to the children of illegal immigrants. So that particular practice, whether you agree with it or not, is not "constitutionally guaranteed."

Yet, regardless of that issue, a 48 to 45 split on the question seems even and in no way reflective of a "strong anti-immigrant tilt." So we are left with the finding that there is a 68 to 24 split in favor of enforcing our immigration laws rather than legislating an amnesty for those 11 million of so undocumented immigrants.

Actually, the wording of the question is quite interesting: "Do you think immigration reform should primarily move in the direction of integrating illegal immigrants into American society or in the direction of stricter enforcement of laws against illegal immigration?"

When was the last time you saw a poll question that used the word "reform" to describe "stricter enforcement of the law"?

What interesting about the poll is not that you find the usual split between self-described Republicans and Democrats, but the view of independents. By a margin of 68% to 24% they favor strict enforcement over amnesty. And by a margin of 66% to 20% they disapprove of Obama's handling of illegal immigration. Since they also favor stricter enforcement, it can hardly be the case that they are faulting Obama for not being successful with amnesty legislation.

I read these data to show that moderates and conservatives, Republicans and independents are coming into alignment on some basic immigration questions. A moment of great opportunity in the immigration debate is shaping up before our eyes.

In finding common ground, Republicans and independents (who can tilt either left or right) have the potential to reshape the immigration debate. However, in doing so independents will also come to share in attempts to marginalize their majority views though the illogical canard that any view short of supporting amnesty is "anti-immigrant." The article repeats, without thought, that factually error.

It is absolutely possible to be both pro-legal immigration, which I am, and against illegal immigration, which I am also. There is nothing remotely inconsistent or contradictory about those positions.

Similarly, you could at one and the same time be strong in favor of legal immigration to this country, which I am, and also believe that the question of birthright citizenship for illegal immigrants raises political, demographic, and policy issues that should be at least examined.

It's really well past time to call out those like the less-than-thoughtful reporter of the L.A. Times article on the issue.