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 NielsenFEMA head to reimburse government for use of federal vehicles: report US to prioritize attacks against foreign adversaries under new cyber strategy Paddlers sue Trump over frequent golf visits shutting down the Potomac River 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 ClintonPompeo: 'We've not been successful' in changing US-Russia relations Michael Moore ties Obama to Trump's win in Michigan in 2016 The Memo: Could Kavanaugh furor spark another ‘year of the woman’? 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 TrumpSunday shows preview: Trump sells U.N. reorganizing and Kavanaugh allegations dominate Ex-Trump staffer out at CNN amid “false and defamatory accusations” Democrats opposed to Pelosi lack challenger to topple her 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 WarnerKey House Dem's objections stall intel bill as deadline looms Russia docs order sets Trump on collision with intel community Hillicon Valley: North Korean IT firm hit with sanctions | Zuckerberg says Facebook better prepared for midterms | Big win for privacy advocates in Europe | Bezos launches B fund to help children, homeless 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 SchumerTrump, GOP regain edge in Kavanaugh battle READ: President Trump’s exclusive interview with Hill.TV The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump slams Sessions in exclusive Hill.TV interview | Kavanaugh accuser wants FBI investigation 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 McConnellDoug Jones to McConnell: Don't 'plow right through' with Kavanaugh Kavanaugh accuser agrees to testify next week GOP, Kavanaugh accuser struggle to reach deal 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 ClintonSexual assault is not a game — stop using women to score political points Trump, GOP regain edge in Kavanaugh battle Presidential approval: It's the economy; except when it's not MORE and Hillary Clinton from 1995 to 2008.