What do Americans believe about immigration?

Kellyanne Conway has released the results of a new poll on immigration. The poll takes a deeper look at the issue than any survey I recall seeing. It finds that (1) immigration has become a massive issue, (2) neither political party has an edge on immigration, but (3) the issue represents a major opportunity for Republicans if they adopt a stance that favors American workers over immigrants.

A majority of Americans in Conway’s survey named immigration as one of the three most important issues in their voting decision this fall. And, while they disapprove of President Obama’s handling of the issue by an almost 2-1 ratio, Republicans are not viewed favorably either.

What immigration policies do Americans favor? For one thing, according to the survey, by a margin of 70-21, likely voters favor encouraging illegal immigrants to return to their home country over offering them legal status in this country. Among voters who consider immigration the most important issue, the margin is 80-13. Among voters who consider it a “top 3″ issue the margin is 75-17.

How might we “encourage” illegal immigrants to return to their home country? Two-thirds of likely voters in the survey favor denying illegal immigrants jobs and welfare benefits.

The House recently passed a three-point immigration plan the prongs of which are (1) providing extra funding for immigration enforcement, (2) making it easier to repatriate young illegal immigrants, and (3) restricting the president’s ability to legalize immigrants through executive power. Conway’s survey found that Americans favor this proposal by a margin of 58-32.

Obama may be on the verge of unilaterally granting amnesty to most illegal immigrants. Americans oppose this move. By a 74-21 margin, they favor Obama working with Congress over him changing immigration policy on his own. Even a majority of Democrats agree with this.

What is driving sentiment in favor of a tougher, rather than a more lenient, approach to illegal immigration. Fairness is, of course, one consideration.

However, Conway’s findings suggest that the desire to protect the American worker is paramount. 74 percent agreed with the following proposition: “The government has a responsibility to adopt immigration policies that protect. . .unemployed or low-wage American workers from competition with illegal immigrants for job.” 85 percent of “blue collar workers” agreed with this. Even a majority of those identifying themselves as liberals concurred.

The same sentiment is evident in the response to this question: “If U.S. businesses have trouble finding workers, what should happen? They should raise wages and improve working conditions to attract Americans OR more immigrant workers should be allowed into the country to fill these jobs.”

Three-quarters of respondents (and 86 percent of Blacks) said that businesses should raise wages and improve working conditions. Only 8 percent favored allowing more immigrant workers into the country to fill the jobs.

From a political standpoint, then, Republicans should be treating immigration as a jobs issue and as a means of appealing to workers. Instead of pandering to business’s desire for cheap labor and to Hispanics who are unlikely to support Republicans in any realistic scenario, they should focus on the interests of the American worker, as the American worker perceives them.

No public office holder has done this more effectively than Sen. Jeff Sessions. And, if I may be permitted to indulge in a bit of blog promotion, no commentator has done it more effectively than John Hinderaker.

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