Americans Oppose Unilateral Executive Action On Immigration, But Support Immigration Reform
A new poll provides some interesting context to the political context to the President's expected executive action on immigration.
With the President set to announce his plan for some sort of unilateral executive action on Thursday evening via an address to the nation, a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds that nearly half the nation opposes the idea of the President acting alone:
Nearly half of Americans disapprove of President Barack Obama’s expected plan to take executive action that would potentially allow millions of undocumented immigrants to stay legally in the United States, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
Forty-eight percent oppose Obama taking executive action on immigration — which could come as soon as later this week — while 38 percent support it; another 14 percent have no opinion or are unsure.
Not surprisingly, these numbers largely break along partisan lines: 63 percent of Democrats approve of Obama taking executive action here, versus just 11 percent of Republicans and 37 percent of independents.
Latinos are divided, with 43 percent supporting the action and 37 percent opposing it. But the sample size here is small (just 110 Latino respondents), so the numbers have a high margin of error.
As NBC News has previously reported, the Obama White House is finalizing a set of proposals to allow as many as five million undocumented immigrants to stay in the country legally, including the parents of children who are American citizens and those with high-tech skills.
These numbers are consistent with the results of a USA Today poll released earlier this week which show that a slightly smaller plurality oppose the idea of the President going it alone on immigration reform in this manner and would prefer to see the President and Congress work together on the issue. As I noted in my post on that poll, this suggests that the President is taking somewhat of a political risk in going forward on immigration reform in this manner, and that Republicans may actually be on the right side of this issue with the public, at least as far as the separation of powers issue goes. As I noted when I wrote about that poll late yesterday, though, it’s hard to predict exactly how the public will react to the President’s proposal when it is made public, which will now apparently occur tomorrow night, and that it was possible that the substance of the President’s new policies will end up being popular with the public as a whole. One potential clue in that regard may lie in other numbers in the NBC/WSJ poll which show broad public support for the specifics of immigration reform:
The new NBC/WSJ poll also finds a majority of Americans (57 percent) favoring a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and that increases to 74 percent when respondents are told that such a pathway requires paying fines and back taxes, as well as passing a security background check.
In June 2013, the U.S. Senate — by a bipartisan 68-32 vote — passed legislation creating this pathway for undocumented immigrants, plus bolstering security of the U.S.-Mexico border.But the GOP-controlled House of Representatives declined to take up the legislation — or even to pass its own bill.
And that is what has spurred President Obama’s decision to take executive action.
The plan that the President will lay out tomorrow night will not be nearly this ambitious, of course, largely because he does not have the legal authority to create anything resembling a pathway to citizenship, or even to legalize in any real sense all of the estimated eleven million people who are in the United States illegally. Instead, the program that he’s is likely to propose is, as I’ve discussed before, likely to be similar to the Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals program that was announced in 2012 and which covers a subset of people who were brought to the United States as children illegally and who meet certain criteria, including the lack of a criminal record and certain age limits. As it stands, that program only covered a certain portion of the people who fall under the definition of people who were brought here as children and didn’t have any choice in whether they came here legally or not, though, and the program is only temporary in that those people who are covered by it must reapply every two years in order to remain eligible for the program and, of course, the program itself could always be rescinded by a subsequent President, or by Congress if it were able to pass a law that eliminated this exemption from deportation and get it enacted into law even notwithstanding an expected veto. The program that the President will propose tomorrow night will, apparently, include an expansion of the DACA program to people not eligible under the original program, as well as DACA-like benefits to others, such as perhaps some of the parents of children who were born here in the United States and are therefore citizens of the United States by virtue of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. The impact of the President’s action, though, will be temporary in the same way that DACA is temporary, and it will not even come close to covering the estimated 11,000,000 undocumented immigrants in the country. At most it is estimated that perhaps 5,000,000 people at most will be able to take advantage of the benefits the President announces tomorrow. That’s a substantial number, though, but it’s not everyone, because the President doesn’t have the authority to impact everyone, it’s only temporary, because he doesn’t really have the authority to grant permanent amnesty and a path to citizenship, and it will do nothing to fix things like the broken legal immigration system. Only Congress can do that.
So, that leaves open the question of how the American public will react to the President’s proposal. Polling such as this, which has been replicated elsewhere, shows that the public is generally oppose the idea of President’s acting unilaterally as he will tomorrow night. At the same time, though, this same polling also shows that the public generally disagrees with the Republican Party’s opposition to things like legalizing the nation’s undocumented immigrants and providing them with a path to citizenship. Polling has also shown that there was broad public support for the DREAM Act, which was the failed legislation that became the basis for the idea of DACA even though DACA is far less wide reaching than the DREAM Act would be. Indeed, notwithstanding the general public attitude toward unilateral executive action, the President has not suffered any real political harm from that program, Remember that that program was announced the summer before the 2012 election, which, of course, the President won handily and there was no indication during that campaign that DACA was any kind of drag on the President’s poll numbers or on how he fared in the election itself.
Obviously, the White House is positing that much the same will happen in response to the policies the President will announce tomorrow, and that the public will ultimately rally around the President in what seems like an inevitable fight over both the substance of the policy and the manner of its implementation with Congress. That may be a correct calculation, in fact I’m willing to bet that it is, but the numbers of Americans we’re seeing who oppose the idea of unilateral action is something that the President should pay some attention to, especially since it’s likely to set off an all-out political war with the new Republican Congress that could have unforeseen consequences for both sides.