Most Americans Don’t Want Mass Deportations—Why Aren’t Republicans Listening?

Mass deportations and no path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants: If you watch the latest Republican presidential candidate debate tonight, that’s what most of the candidates’ positions would tell you. But that’s not how most Americans think that the immigration issue should be resolved, according to new polls released recently.

The latest is the United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll, in which only 25 percent of 1,008 respondents said that all immigrants should be deported no matter how long they’ve been in the country. The largest group, who numbered 39 percent, said that the United States should “deport some, but allow those who have been here for many years and have broken no other laws to stay here legally.”

A November CNN poll of 1,000 adults asked what the U.S. response to immigration should be and 42 percent said allow them to become residents. Also in November, the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that 67 percent favored policy that would provide a path to citizenship and border security enforcement.

So why the apparent disconnect between what Americans want and what Republican nominees are proposing, which Angela Kelley of The Center for American Progress called a “a gap as wide as the Grand Canyon” during a conference call to discuss latest poll findings?

“They’re looking for easy answers, they want black/white, either/or,” Lynn Tramonte, Deputy Director at America's Voice, an immigration reform group, said during the call. “The immigration issue is not, 'Are you for enforcement or are you for reform?' As a candidate you don’t have to choose between appealing to the general population or appealing to Latino voters. The truth is that voters want enforcement but they also want reform. A majority of voters support practical common sense comprehensive immigration reform.”

But often, nominees see taking a tough stance on immigration as necessary in getting their party’s nomination. It’s a tactic that Tramonte and others say has been used for the past four election cycles—to no effect. “The illegal immigration wedge issue should be declared dead,” Tramonte said.

That’s because “The evidence is very clear from a variety of polls that this anti-immigrant policy and rhetoric is driving Latino voters away from the Republican party but it is also driving away the general electorate,” said Matt Barreto, director of the Washington Institute for the Study of Ethnicity and Race and researcher with Latino Decisions.

The tough talk on mass deportations may get candidates “big applause lines,” Kelley said, “but the people they’re talking to at that moment is the far right base. There will be a day of reckoning for these candidates because the demographics are changing dramatically, and frankly, demographics are destiny if you’re a politician. Republicans are drinking a slow poison and it will eventually kill them.”