American public backs immigration deal with DACA and border security

American public backs immigration deal with DACA and border security
© Getty Images

It’s time for Democrats and Republicans to make a real deal on immigration and end almost two decades of ineffective, hypocritical policies. The basic tenets of such a deal have wide public support, except among the extreme wings of each party.

And that is the problem. It’s the reason President Obama, even with 60 Democratic senators, didn’t raise the issue. The vital center on this issue has been ignored because votes in Democratic and Republican caucuses quickly reveal one of the few remaining ideological fissures within the parties. Make no mistake, if there is a good deal, those on the extremes will be unhappy — but America will be the winner.

ADVERTISEMENT
First, Americans support the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients and their plight. If you came here as a kid with or without your parents, 77 percent in the last Harvard CAPS/Harris Poll (including 66 percent of Republicans) support not just work permits but a path to citizenship. The Department of Homeland Security secretary, Kirstjen NielsenKirstjen Michele NielsenHomeland Security advisory council members resign over family separations: report Republican Uber riders say driver kicked them out with 'Welcome to the resistance' Top Senate Dem: Trump administration's lack of focus on election security an 'embarrassment' MORE, said she supported a permanent solution to the problem and that means giving people an opportunity to work, pay taxes and prosper here as full citizens.

Second, Americans support more secure borders, even if that means having a barrier that’s both physical and electronic where appropriate. Fifty-four percent (though only 32 percent of Democrats) support that kind of barrier, and overall 61 percent think our border security is inadequate. Nearly four in five (including most Democrats) reject the idea of open borders, which you may recall that Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonOvernight Defense: Trump tries to quell Russia furor | GOP looks to reassure NATO | Mattis open to meeting Russian counterpart Dem pollster: GOP women have a more difficult time winning primary races than Dems Mellman: (Mis)interpreting elections MORE did advocate in one of her speeches to Wall Street banks. (In general, business likes immigration because it brings in more customers and less-expensive labor.)

Overall, 68 percent, including majorities of all parties, oppose a lottery for 50,000 immigrants a year. This is a remarkable policy — why would precious spots to come to America be offered to people, not on the basis of having relatives here or on ability to contribute to society, but randomly? That’s a tough policy to defend in today’s world.

When asked whether preferences to come to America should be made on the basis of people’s ability, education and skills or on the basis of family relations, American voters overwhelmingly, by 79 to 21, choose merit. Voters in general oppose chain migration but I don’t think it would be accurate to say people oppose all preferences for relatives, as people are compassionate about the immigration of close family members like kids and parents. Voters will support limits on this program, but there is a lot of negotiating left on this one to get it right.

Finally, when asked how many legal immigrants should be allowed into America each year, most people — 53 percent — said that 500,000 was a fair number, which of course is far below the existing annual legal immigration of 1 million. This is indicative of America’s general conservatism when it comes to immigration, which President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says he doesn't want to use 'adversary' to describe Russia Comey urges Americans to vote for Democrats in midterms Roby wins Alabama GOP runoff, overcoming blowback from Trump criticism MORE tapped into, to win the electoral college.

So it is fair to say that Americans believe in compassion for those who are here — especially the “Dreamers” — but also want more merit-based immigration, an end to the lottery and a sensible electronic and physical barrier. In fact, when we asked Americans about a congressional deal like this one, 65 percent said this is a package of reforms that they would favor.

But let’s face it — all of the Democratic senators likely running for president, with the exception of Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerSenate Dems press for info on any deals from Trump-Putin meeting Overnight Defense: Trump tries to quell Russia furor | GOP looks to reassure NATO | Mattis open to meeting Russian counterpart Hillicon Valley: Trump tries to quell Russia furor | Sparks fly at hearing on social media | First House Republican backs net neutrality bill | Meet the DNC's cyber guru | Sinclair defiant after merger setback MORE (D-Va.), voted to keep the government shut down, a position opposed by 58 percent of America but favored by the Democratic base and immigration groups. The implication is that, on the Democratic side, presidential politics will put Senate Minority Leader Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerThis week: GOP mulls vote on ‘abolish ICE’ legislation Red-state Dem tells Schumer to 'kiss my you know what' on Supreme Court vote Dem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick MORE (D-N.Y.) in the hot seat.

In the past, Democrats generally lined up behind border security and if they could get everything they want — and the American people want — including a path to citizenship on DACA, their goal should be to negotiate hard on chain migration and pretty much give Trump what he wants on the lottery and the barrier. But “The Wall” has become a symbol of resistance to Trump, and so most Democratic voters oppose it, creating a sticking point in the Democratic caucus that Schumer will again have to overrule and that Trump will have to clarify is part physical, part electronic.

On the Republican side, the anti-amnesty and Ann Coulter crowd will also have to accept a compromise here, especially in the more conservative House. They should not let this issue devolve into another health care fight that leaves in place the unworkable status quo.

The Constitution introduced checks and balances so that no one faction could get its way, and this is just the kind of issue the Founders envisioned would be settled through compromise. President Trump has outlined four pillars of a deal, each of which has a lot of support. The question is whether Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Defense: Trump tries to quell Russia furor | GOP looks to reassure NATO | Mattis open to meeting Russian counterpart Senate weighs new Russia response amid Trump backlash House passes bipartisan bill to boost business investment MORE (R-Ky.) and Schumer can tame the far-right and far-left elements of their caucuses and bring home the kind of balanced reform that the DACA recipients need and the American public supports.

Mark Penn is chairman of the Harris Poll and was pollster and senior adviser to Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonWhy did it take so long for Trump to drain the swamp of Pruitt? An orthodox legal life and the case for Judge Kavanaugh Ex-CIA officer: Prosecution of Russians indicted for DNC hack 'ain't ever going to happen' MORE and Hillary Clinton from 1995 to 2008.