As immigration reform is debated on Capitol Hill, a new national survey shows that the majority of Americans from diverse religious and political backgrounds supports a pathway to citizenship for the country's 11 million undocumented immigrants. Almost 80 percent of those polled believe that immigration reform should focus on keeping families together and protecting the dignity of every person. United Church of Christ immigration advocates say these public opinions could be a tipping point for more congressional support on the issue.
Results from the survey released March 21 by Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with The Brookings Institution show that 63 percent of Americans agree that immigrants currently living in the country illegally should be allowed to become citizens, provided they meet certain requirements.
"Legislators often wait for the public to swing first in the march toward justice," said the Rev. Dr. John Dorhauer, minister of the UCC's Southwest Conference and member of the UCC's Immigration Task Force. "When, finally, public consciousness reaches a tipping point, elected officials will abandon past rhetoric and voting histories and become advocates for what their hearts felt all along. This has to be good news for hard working immigrants who have already made significant contributions to our society, and who simply want to be recognized as citizens of a land they have come to love."
Majorities of Democrats, Independents and Republicans support an earned path to citizenship, as well as majorities of all religious groups including white mainline Protestants, Hispanic Catholics, Hispanic Protestants, black Protestants, Jewish Americans, Mormons, white Catholics and white evangelical Protestants.
The survey considered responses from nearly 4,500 respondents, and is one of the largest surveys ever conducted on immigration issues.
The overwhelming majority of those surveyed indicating keeping families together and protecting the dignity of every person are very or extremely important as principles to immigration reform. Additionally, 69 percent of Americans say that providing immigrants the same opportunities that they would want if their family were immigrating to the United States is also very or extremely important.
"This poll proves what we knew all along," said the Rev. Dr. Gerald L. Mansholt of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. "People of faith overwhelmingly follow God's call to welcome newcomers and they are dedicated to upholding the dignity of every person and protecting the sanctity of the family."
The poll also finds that 45 percent of Americans say the Republican Party's position on immigration has hurt the GOP in recent elections, and Americans are more likely to say they trust the Democratic Party to do a better job handling the issue of immigration. However, nearly 1-in-4 Americans say they do not trust either party to handle the issue.
Overall, the survey showed Americans are more likely to have positive views about the impact of immigrants in the United States. A majority (54 percent) of Americans believe that the growing number of newcomers from other countries helps strengthen American society. Nearly 60 percent of Americans believe that immigrants today see themselves as part of the American community, much like immigrants from previous eras.
"Support for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who are already living in the United States is that rarest of rarities in our polarized political environment—a policy that enjoys majority support across partisan and religious lines," said Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute.
Public Religion Research Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization specializing in research at the intersection of religion, values and public life.
The United Church of Christ has a long history of affirming the dignity of immigrants and working for comprehensive U.S. immigration policy. Since 1995, General Synod – the main deliberative body of the UCC – has repeatedly called for a fair and human approach to U.S. immigration policy that protects families and respects the humanity of our immigrant brothers and sisters.