Nearly 2/3 of Americans Support for Path to Citizenship for Immigrants -- But Will Obama Step Up?

Nearly two-thirds of all Americans favor a legal path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants--a sharp upswing in support for immigration reform that will likely influence President Obama’s efforts to overhaul the system this year.

According to an AP-GFK poll released today, a full 62 percent of Americans support the idea of legislation that would provide a citizenship path for the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the United States.

This poll reveals the populace’s rapidly changing views on immigration. In 2010, only 50 percent of those polled by the AP supported a path to citizenship. In 2009 it was only 47 percent--a full 15 percentage points lower. 

This type of rapid swing to the left in public opinion is reminiscent of the skyrocketing support for gay marriage and legalization of marijuana over the last few years. Combined, the three shifts provide indications that, despite the Tea Party and resurgences of social conservatism, the populace is increasingly in favor of many progressive issues.

President Obama is widely expected to tackle immigration reform this coming year. In his first term, his track record on immigration issues was complicated and often criticized. Although he passed deferred action legislation early in his campaign season as a concession to DREAMers, his deportation policy has been widely deplored. His administration averaged 400,000 deportations annually, and over the first term deported more people that President George W. Bush deported during his eight years in office. Last year, the administration spent nearly $18 billion on deportations--more than the White House authorized for all other federal law enforcement agencies combined.

The AP poll illustrates that this policy is increasingly out of step with the public’s opinion that the United States needs a legal path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who are currently living in the country.

The poll also illustrates that sweeping progressive immigration reform is increasingly gaining bipartisan support. In the AP poll, 53 percent of Republicans supported a path to citizenship--more than 22 percentage points higher than in 2010.

Poll participant Nick Nanos, a 66-year-old man in Bellmore, N.Y., told the AP that a legal path to citizenship would not only honor the nation’s identity of being a country of immigrants, it would also reflect a more honest reading of United States history.

"We act as if our grandparents got here legally. Don't want to ask a single Indian about that," Nanos told the AP. "I don't think that most of us can solidly come to a point where our grandparents or great-grandparents or great-great-grandparents were here legally. What does that even mean?"


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