Biden’s internal polling touts public support for immigration reform
A wide swath of advocacy groups in President Biden’s orbit are increasingly bullish about the political prospects of immigration reform, as polls show consistent public support for action on the issue.
Pollster Matt Barreto — a veteran of the Biden presidential campaign who’s an adviser for Building Back Together (BBT), a political action group created to support Biden — on Monday briefed the president’s top allies on his latest poll.
The briefing was hosted by BBT for the top 100 outside groups that support Biden’s agenda.
Barreto’s poll was consistent with a series of public polls over the past year, showing there is public support for immigration reform that includes legal status for at least a wide swath of the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants.
“I think we have an environment where there is clearly support for this issue and an opportunity to support the president’s agenda,” said a meeting attendee who requested anonymity to speak freely.
The Biden administration has sustained criticism from the left and right on its immigration policies.
The left has critiqued what it sees as a too-slow pace of moving away the Trump administration’s restrictive policies. On the right, the criticism was set in stone before inauguration — Republicans early on settled on a narrative of chaos at the border as their principal attack line against the administration.
While that’s limited Biden’s ability to seek a bipartisan compromise on immigration, it’s made Democrats increasingly open to the idea of going at it alone.
“We’re at an important political moment on immigration when Democrats are getting more confident that their agenda is the popular one, when the Republican efforts to hype the quote-unquote ‘border crisis’ seem to be fading,” said Doug Rivlin, a spokesman for America’s Voice, a progressive immigration reform advocacy group.
“As the president gets a better handle on dealing with the influx of unaccompanied children, there’s still a lot that needs to be done in terms of policy but the politics are there,” added Rivlin.
Barreto’s poll is likely to bolster those attitudes among the president’s allies, as the administration weighs whether it has the political capital to mount a push on immigration as part of or in parallel to its infrastructure and jobs package.
According to his poll, 70 percent of respondents say the immigration system is not working well or needs a complete overhaul. That finding, which is similar to other polls on the issue, predates Biden and is likely a result of on-again off-again failed negotiations on immigration reform over the past 30 years.
Barreto also found overwhelming support for permanent legal status for so-called Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country as minors.
That finding is also consistent with independent polling on the matter, and according to Barreto’s poll, public support also extends to giving legal status to farmworkers and essential workers who are undocumented.
And Barreto’s poll also found that 71 percent of respondents, including 77 percent of independents, want to see legislative action on immigration.
Barreto’s poll was conducted among 1,000 registered voters nationwide with a 3.1 percentage point margin of error.
It’s particularly significant that the poll was shared on a BBT call, as the group was launched with the White House’s blessing, and is increasingly serving as a clearing house to measure Democratic base sentiment on different issues.
While some issues, such as health care, have traditionally united Democrats, immigration has at times been a thorny issue within the party.
But as new polls and analyses of the 2020 electorate are released, immigration advocates within the party have gained ground making the case that immigration reform is a politically sound platform.
“What this polling demonstrates is it’s very clear that the American public when given the choice of which of these options do you want, they support immigration reform and an orderly, humane processing of migrants at the border,” said a meeting attendee.
Still, the Biden administration has been reluctant to take a gung-ho approach to immigration, particularly when it comes to granting large groups of foreign nationals the right to live and work in the United States.
The clearest example was the White House’s initial announcement that it would allow only 15,000 refugees in the country in fiscal 2021, a limit the administration quickly raised after significant outcry from pro-immigrant voices.
And the loudest voices in that case were not outside advocates, but House and Senate Democrats, including big names like Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (Ill.) and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.).
While Democratic votes in both chambers are likely there for immigration reform including legalization of a significant population, immigration reform would almost certainly not attract enough Republican support to overcome a filibuster.
“There’s still some hope that Republicans will come to the table and work in a bipartisan way. There’s some hope, but not a lot of hope,” said Rivlin.
Immigration advocates and their allies throughout Democratic grassroots politics are increasingly pushing for segments of immigration reform to be included in a larger economic bill that’s slated to pass through reconciliation, avoiding the need for 60 Senate votes.
“We have a lot of cautious optimism that legalization in some form is going to be part of a reconciliation package,” said a meeting attendee.
Legalization through reconciliation would have its own challenges — a big push to grant legal status to those in the country without reforming legal avenues of ingress for migrants could disturb the balance that the Biden administration has achieved at the border.
But any form of immigration reform, advocates say, is better than the existing patchwork system focused on enforcement and red tape.
And they argue action on immigration would ultimately benefit Democrats ahead of the 2022 midterms.
“I certainly think it’s good for the country policy-wise, but it’s good for Democrats politically,” said Rivlin.