November 12, 2013 | By Dina Smeltz

Midwestern Business Leaders Give Strong Support for Path to Citizenship

By Craig Kafura and Dina Smeltz

According to the Chicago Council's September 2013 survey among businesses in the Midwest, support for immigration reform among Midwestern business leaders is strong, with majorities supporting comprehensive immigration reform and a pathway to citizenship. And with good reason: immigration reform is expected to have a range of benefits to the economy. However, that support is not uniform: roughly three in ten Midwestern business leaders oppose comprehensive immigration reform that includes key aspects of enforcement as well as a path to citizenship.

So what drives some Midwestern business leaders to oppose immigration reform? It’s not what you’d think.  Our analysis shows that those who oppose a version of comprehensive immigration reform see it as too restrictive and would prefer a more straightforward path to citizenship for the eleven million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States. 

Overall, One in Three Oppose Reform

First, a word of explanation: this survey of Midwestern business leaders featured a split-sample experiment, in which half of the sample was each randomly selected to receive a different introduction to a question. The two introductions were:

Generic version: "One version of immigration reform that people have discussed would do the following ..." Senate version: "The Senate passed a comprehensive bill on immigration reform that would do the following ... "

The rest of the question was identical and included the following components:

"Increase border security at a cost of 46 billion dollars, identify illegal immigrants, and penalize employers who hire them. Illegal immigrants who are qualified to stay will be required to pay taxes and to learn English before they can apply for citizenship after ten years. Do you favor or oppose this version of immigration reform?"

The overall results show that majorities of Midwestern business leaders supported  the generic version (69%) as well as the Senate version (65%) of these questions, while minorities opposed them (31% generic, 34% Senate). To determine what factors shape opposition to immigration reform among Midwestern business leaders, we looked at how support or opposition to immigration reform matched up with other views on immigration policy. For this analysis, we combined the results of both questions to increase confidence in the data analysis. In the graphs below, we refer to supporters of both the generic or Senate-passed Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) as  those who 'Favor CIR', and opponents as those who 'Oppose CIR'.

Opposition Among Supporters of Path to Legal Status

One of the most controversial elements of the national immigration debate is what to do about the eleven million undocumented immigrants living in the US. Overall, three in four Midwestern business leaders support enacting reforms that would provide a path to legal status for the undocumented at the same time as enacting stricter border control (53%) or enacting a path to citizenship now and pushing off stricter border control to a later time (22%).

What's surprising is that among CIR opponents (the grey bars in the figures below), a large majority (79% combined) preferred policy actions that created a path to legal status for undocumented workers: a plurality (42%) supported enacting a path to legal status now and putting off border control for later, and nearly as many supported doing both (37%). Only 19 percent of Midwestern business leaders who oppose CIR believe that Congress should enact stricter border control now and put off consideration of a path to legal status.  Those who favor CIR were markedly more likely than opponents to want to enact both a path to legal status and border security now, and one in four CIR supporters favored enacting stricter border control now without also enacting a path to legal status.

This is a rather counter-intuitive finding: one might expect that those opposing a path to legal status would oppose an immigration reform bill that would offer a path to citizenship. This relationship becomes more clear when we examine responses to a question that asked specifically about support for path to citizenship without linking it to border security.

CIR Opponents Support Citizenship for Undocumented

Overall, a majority (63%) of Midwestern business leaders support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, either unconditionally (28%) or after paying a penalty and waiting a number of years (35%). Among CIR opponents, a majority (68%) also support a path to citizenship, either unconditionally (43%) or after a process where they could eventually apply for citizenship after a waiting period and paying a penalty (25%). The level of support for an unconditional path to citizenship is substantially higher among CIR opponents than among CIR supporters (43% versus 20%), and supporters are more likely than opponents to favor a path with a waiting period and a penalty than an unconditional one (40% versus 20%). Also striking is the level of support for deportation among CIR supporters: one in four say that illegal immigrants should be required to leave their jobs and the US.

With this analysis, we can see what drives opposition to comprehensive immigration reform among Midwestern business leaders: a majority of those who oppose the CIR bill as laid out in the question see it as too restrictive and would prefer a more straightforward path to citizenship. Conversely, those who favor border control and deportations and are less supportive of a path to citizenship are more likely to support the CIR package as presented because of its emphasis on enforcement and verification.

A full and detailed report of The Chicago Council's 2013 Midwest Business Leader Survey will be released in November 2013. Visit for updates. 


The Chicago Council on Global Affairs highlights critical shifts in American public thinking on US foreign policy through public opinion surveys and research conducted under the Lester Crown Center on US Foreign Policy. 

The annual Chicago Council Survey, first conducted in 1974, is a valuable resource for policymakers, academics, media, and the general public. The Council also surveys American leaders in government, business, academia, think tanks, and religious organizations biennially to compare trends in their thinking with overall trends. And collaborating with partner organizations, the survey team periodically conducts parallel surveys of public opinion in other regions of the world to compare with US public opinion. 

The Running Numbers blog features regular commentary and analysis from the Council’s public opinion and US foreign policy research team, including a series of flash polls of a select group of foreign policy experts to assess their opinions on critical foreign policy topics driving the news.


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