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What Recent Polls Signal for Immigration Reform

Sep 07, 2012

Maybe our next Congress and Presidential victor will have the courage to approach the issue.

Miltner photo   CopyBy Ryan Miltner, attorney

In the past two weeks, both Mitt Romney and President Obama formally accepted their respective party’s nomination for the Presidency.

If anyone was hoping for a statement providing some optimism regarding immigration reform, they were almost certainly disappointed. In fact, neither candidate made any statement about the immigration problem facing agriculture – nothing about tougher enforcement or border security, nor any statement about undocumented workers or targeted reforms, let alone a comprehensive plan.

Ryan Miltner will speak at Dairy Today’s 2012 Elite Producer Business Conference Nov. 6 in Las Vegas. Click here to learn more.

The dearth of a conversation about immigration stems from the simple fact that this election hinges on the intertwined issues of the economy and jobs.

Regardless of the facts, which demonstrate that immigrant farm workers do not displace American workers but instead fill a void that American workers have demonstrated for decades that they simply will not fill, the perception among many is just the opposite. In a 2010 Ipsos-McClatchy poll, only 45% of respondents agreed with the statement, “Illegal immigrants in the U.S. mostly work in jobs that Americans don’t want anyway.” That perception seems to resonate with our politicians on both sides of the aisle, who now treat immigration as a third-rail issue.

But interestingly, the overall perceptions of the public on immigration reform and the treatment of undocumented workers currently in the U.S. have changed over the past several years. Consider the following poll results:

In May 2010, Quinnipiac University asked, “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?” Twenty-six percent favored integration, and 66% favored stricter enforcement.

In November 2011, CNN asked a similar question, “What should be the main focus of the U.S. government in dealing with the issue of illegal immigration: developing a plan that would allow illegal immigrants who have jobs to become legal U.S. residents, or developing a plan for stopping the flow of illegal immigrants into the U.S. and for deporting those already here?" In that poll, 42% favored residency, and 55% favored enforcement and deportation.

In June, two polls were conducted that showed growing support for reform. A CBS-New York Times poll showed that fully 64% of respondents favored allowing undocumented workers to apply for either citizenship or temporary worker status, and only 32% would opt for deportation. The Pew Research Center found that 69% favored a pathway to citizenship, whether alone or coupled with increased border enforcement, while only 28% favored enforcement alone.

Finally, in August, a poll conducted by the Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation asked whether illegal immigrants should be offered a pathway to citizenship or deported. The result favored citizenship by a margin of 61% to 35%. That’s nearly a complete reversal of the poll results from 2010, with a majority in most recent polls favoring some kind of continued status for currently undocumented workers.

Is it a coincidence that immigration reform has been a back-burner issue for the past two years? Perhaps. Or maybe the mood of the public really has shifted. If our politicians are following the polls (you can insert your own chuckle here), it might signal that some kind of comprehensive approach would be favored by a majority of voters, and just maybe our next Congress and Presidential victor might have the courage to approach the issue.

Ryan Miltner is an agricultural and estate planning lawyer in private practice. His agricultural practice is focused on dairy policy and the economic regulation of the dairy industry. The opinions in this article are his own observations prepared for Dairy Today and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any of his clients. Contact him at

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