The polling wars on immigration reform have officially begun. Today, the Center for Immigration Studies, which aims to restrict immigration to the United States and deport those who are here illegally, sent around the findings of a recent Zogby poll which finds that — surprise! — a majority of Mexicans say they think their friends and family would be more likely to come to the United States if the U.S. granted them permanent legal status. Never mind that no U.S. lawmaker is actually proposing to do that.
Here’s how Research Director Steven Camarota puts it in his latest “Backgrounder“:
A new survey by Zogby International finds that people in Mexico think that granting legal status to illegal immigrants in the United States would encourage more illegal immigration to the United States. As the top immigrant-sending country for both legal and illegal immigrants, views on immigration in Mexico can provide insight into the likely impact of an amnesty, as well as other questions related to immigration.
But to gain some useful insight, it’s important to look at the actual question that Zogby asked the 1,004 Mexicans polled, which was: “If the U.S. gave permanent legal status to undocumented immigrants (migrantes indocumentados), do you think it would make your friends and family members more likely or less likely to go to the U.S. as indocumentados, or would it make no difference?” 56 percent of Mexicans polled said they thought it would make people they knew more likely to go.
In fact, “permanent legal status” for new illegal immigrants is not what anyone in Congress is contemplating, but that’s what this latest CIS “Backgrounder” implies. Advocates for comprehensive immigration reform have been pressing for a law that would grant legal status only to certain immigrants who have been living and working in the United States for at least several years. New immigrants would not qualify for legal status, but would have to apply through the channels provided for in any new law, which would likely be based in large part on the needs of the labor market.
“The general thing that the restrictionists do and will continue to do is try to make the case that as soon as you do this, the floodgates are going to open and life as you know it won’t ever be the same,” said Wendy Sefsaf, communications manager for the Immigration Policy Center. “That’s the argument they make every single time.” But even President Reagan’s “amnesty” program back in the 1980s required immigrants to have been in the United States for several years before they’d qualify, she noted. And the State Department would make that clear in Mexico and elsewhere when any new immigration law is passed in the United States.
It’s worth noting, too, the second question asked by the Zogby poll, and Mexicans’ answers. “If at this moment, you had the means and opportunity to go to live in the U.S., would you go?” 59.6 percent of Mexicans said “no.” Only about a third of those polled said “yes.” So it turns out that even if they were given the opportunity — which they won’t be — all those people in Mexico wouldn’t stampede across the U.S. border after all.