Last week several papers reported that President Obama will seek a comprehensive, not incremental, immigration reform package in his second term and he doesn't want to carry the legacy of Deporter in Chief. Here in the Midwest, people are evenly divided on whether a comprehensive or piecemeal approach is best, and they think that carrying out more deportations would be less effective than creating a pathway to citizenship and imposing fines on businesses that hire unauthorized workers. We know, because the Chicago Council released results from a Midwestern survey on immigration late last year as part of a task force on immigration.
The Chicago Council report reveals that few Midwesterners are aware that immigration levels have been decreasing and that most immigrants in the Midwest today are here legally. Analysis showed a clear need for more accurate information to move public opinion forward on immigration reform. Most of those who are aware the unauthorized immigration is decreasing and that most immigrants in the Midwest are here legally are likely to be open to immigration reform. Those who sense that Midwestern businesses have difficulty finding job candidates with US citizenship are also more open to reform.
While our published report highlights these findings, for lack of space we were unable to share all of them. So I'll do that here. In the current debate, skeptics of immigration reform worry that there has not been enough enforcement. For their part, six in ten (62%) Midwest residents believe that carrying out more arrests and deportations are at least somewhat effective in dealing with "illegal" immigration. But at least seven in ten think that increasing border security (73%) creating a pathway to citizenship (73%) and imposing new fines on businesses that hire unauthorized immigrants (81%) are at least somewhat effective.
Immigrant advocates want a more selective strategy for deportations to focus on immigrants with a criminal record. More Midwest residents endorse (48%) than oppose (27%) deporting unauthorized immigrants who are convicted of a crime over those who have families in the US and do not have a criminal record. But one in four (24%) have not heard enough to give an opinion. Asked about the President's stopgap Executive Order that "halts the deportation of some illegal immigrants if they came here before age 16, have been in the country for five years, have no criminal record, are in school or have a high school diploma, or have been honorably discharged from the military," 46 percent agree with halting deportations for the DREAMers and 24 percent disagree. But one in three (29%) have not heard enough to give an opinion.
Reform activists think that the administration has not done enough to publicize its enforcement record, and given the public's lack of knowledge about recent immigration trends and policies, it is probably unaware of the administration's enforcement achievements (see the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute's report on this, which shows that the USG is spending more into immigration agencies than other law enforcement agencies combined). Obviously, there is a long way to go before an immigration deal is reached, and enforcement will have to be a major element. But in terms of public support, knowledge and awareness are key. Accurate information on the current levels of unauthorized immigration, the economic costs and benefits of immigrant labor for local businesses and the record number of deportations enacted in the past year could help pave the way for public support to immigration reforms, whether comprehensive or incremental.