A New York Times article on the effect of recent immigration rights protests cited a poll taken before the first of these rallies had occurred. This survey found that only 40 percent of respondents believed that illegal immigrants "should be granted some kind of legal status that allows them to stay here," while 53 percent said they should be "required to go home." But more recent polling -- conducted in the wake of large-scale demonstrations that began in March and amid Senate deliberations over immigration reform -- has found a far larger number of Americans in favor of so-called "comprehensive" reform.
In a May 3 article on the effect of recent immigration rights protests, New York Times reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg cited a poll taken before the first of these rallies had occurred. This survey found that only 40 percent of respondents believed that illegal immigrants "should be granted some kind of legal status that allows them to stay here," while 53 percent said they should be "required to go home." But more recent polling -- conducted in the wake of large-scale demonstrations that began in March and amid Senate deliberations over immigration reform -- has found a far larger number of Americans in favor of so-called "comprehensive" reform.
Stolberg began her May 3 article, headlined "After Immigration Protests, Goal Remains Elusive," by asserting that "the protesters do not appear to have achieved their primary goal: changing votes in Congress. And some critics say the demonstration may have generated a backlash, hardening positions on Capitol Hill." Stolberg cited doubts "about whether the protesters can translate their passion into political results." She quoted numerous lawmakers and advocates expressing the view that the string of massive rallies -- most recently, those held on May 1 in cities nationwide -- likely had little effect on the ongoing debate over immigration reform:
"I have no effective data on this, but it has probably hardened positions and maybe done a little bit of wedging," said Gov. Jon S. Corzine of New Jersey, a Democrat and former senator who said he supported the protesters' cause. "I think that the people that were really fired up about this still are, and the position that they had to start with, they still carry."
Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, said: "The protest, I don't think, changes votes on the floor of the Senate. I think what changes votes is coming down, sitting down, talking about it, as opposed to students' staying out of school. I happen to think that students' staying out of school is counterproductive."
Stolberg went on to cite the results of a Pew Hispanic Center poll on immigration:
The public is deeply divided on illegal immigration. A survey in March by the Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research group in Washington, found that 53 percent of respondents said people who were in the United States illegally should be required to go home and that 40 percent say the immigrants should be granted some kind of legal status that allows them to stay here.
"What buttons were pressed?" Roberto Suro, the director of the center, asked, wondering aloud about what Americans saw when they looked at the protesters. "Was it that there are so many people here outside of government control or was it the hard-working family types? I think that's really imponderable."
But while the Pew poll was released in late March, it was conducted earlier, from February 8 to March 7. Therefore, it offers no insight into the question posed by Stolberg's article -- whether the immigration rights protests have affected support for the various reform proposals before Congress. As the following timetable shows, the polling preceded the major demonstrations and Senate consideration of various comprehensive reform proposals:
- March 10: An estimated 100,000 protesters demonstrate in downtown Chicago.
- March 25: In Los Angeles, an estimated 500,000 protesters march to City Hall.
- March 27: The Senate Judiciary Committee approves the "Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006," which would boost the number of border patrol agents, deploy new technologies to monitor the border, and provide a path to citizenship for most of the approximately 11 million illegal immigrants currently residing in the United States.
- April 6: A bipartisan group of senators reaches an agreement on a compromise proposal that would offer the possibility of citizenship to immigrants who have been in the country illegally for more than 2 years.
- April 9: Substantial demonstrations take place in Dallas, San Diego, and Minneapolis-St. Paul.
- April 10: Large-scale protests are staged in more than 100 cities nationwide.
- May 1: Illegal immigrants across the country leave work to take part in demonstrations. Rallies in New York City and Los Angeles draw hundreds of thousands. Attendance at the protest in Chicago is estimated to exceed 700,000.
Stolberg's citation of the Pew poll leaves the false impression that, despite these developments, those who favor deporting all illegal immigrants have outnumbered those who support more comprehensive reforms. In fact, numerous polls published in April reported results that significantly differed from the Pew survey's findings. Indeed, four polls conducted by major news agencies between April 6 and 24 found that, by significant margins, most Americans favored granting illegal immigrants legal residency and the possibility of citizenship if they pass certain hurdles:
- A CBS News poll conducted April 6-9 found that 74 percent of respondents supported offering legal residency to illegal immigrants who have "paid a fine, been in the U.S. for at least five years, paid any back taxes they owe, can speak English, and have no criminal record."
- A USA Today/Gallup survey conducted April 7-9 found that only 18 percent of respondents favored sending all illegal immigrants back to their home countries. Eighty percent supported either a guest worker program or a plan that would let illegal immigrants earn citizenship if they pass a number of hurdles.
- A Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll conducted April 8-11 found that 66 percent of respondents backed a plan to let illegal immigrants who have been living and working in the United States for a number of years start a path to citizenship. Eighteen percent of respondents opposed the proposal.
- An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll conducted April 21-24 found that 35 percent of Americans favor deporting all illegal immigrants, while 61 percent support letting them stay in the United States. Further, the poll found that 68 percent of Americans support the Senate compromise proposal that would provide a path to citizenship to illegal immigrants who have been in the United States for more than two years. Twenty-eight percent of respondents opposed it.