Do Americans Even Care About Immigration Reform?

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Immigration reform has become one of the hot topics on Washington’s to-do list. The importance of reform is indisputable — it’s the timing of the changes that’s being argued, with Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) vacillating. Initially, he echoed President Barack Obama’s intentions for immediate reform, given by the president during his State of the Union address on January 28. Recently, though, Boehner has changed his mind, saying that reform should wait until 2015, when Republicans may have a better chance of a majority in the Senate as well as the House.

This year, Americans didn’t put immigration as high on their list of importance as some in Washington have, at least according to a Gallup poll released on January 16. Given 19 issues to rate as extremely important, very important, moderately important, or not important at all, Gallup found that those who viewed immigration as extremely or very important for Congress and the president in 2014 placed the issue at the bottom of the list, with 50 percent agreeing.

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It fell below everything from the economy to education and health care. It was below crime, taxes, “the distribution of income and wealth,” and gun policy in terms of importance. The only issues that those polled found less important for the coming year were government surveillance, abortion, race relations, and LGBT policies.

When it comes to the specifics on immigration, according to the Gallup study, Americans are fairly evenly split on which immigration components should be dealt with first: border security or efforts to deal with undocumented immigrants already in the country. The number finding “Securing U.S. borders” to be extremely important rang in at 43 percent, compared to the 44 percent who said that “Dealing with illegal immigrants already in U.S.” is extremely important.

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Another poll was taken earlier in February that examined how party affiliation lined up with opinions on the importance of borders and undocumented immigrants. The views of Republicans, Democrats, and independents in 2014 were compared to polling results from 2011, examining two categories: securing U.S. borders and dealing with the current undocumented immigrant population. All sides rated the issues as less important in 2014 than in 2011, with the exception of Democrats on undocumented immigrants within the United States. Thirty-seven percent of Democrats in 2011 said that handling undocumented immigrants already in the U.S. was of vital importance, while 41 percent said the same in 2014.

When respondents were given forced-choice polling in early February, the gap between policy preferences was still minor, with 51 percent saying that already-present undocumented immigrants needed to be dealt with, while 46 percent said border security should take precedence. When put on the spot in 2011, 67 percent placed more importance on border security compared to the 32 percent who were more concerned about undocumented immigrants.

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The parties have different views on how the current population of undocumented immigrants should be handled going forward, with House Republicans catering to voters who dislike the pathway to legalization that most Democrats favor. The American Farm Bureau released numbers that put the importance of handling America’s immigrant population into perspective.

The nation’s largest farm lobby reported that if enforcement-only policies were taken up by Congress going forward with immigration reform, food prices would rise between 5 and 6 percent, fruit production would plummet by 30 to 61 percent, and vegetable production would fall by 15 to 31 percent as a result of labor force loss

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