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Getting the Facts Straight About Immigration

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Despite Pessimism, Support for Immigration Reform Has Always Been High, We Just Don't Realize It

Scott Brown's election to the Senate, stalled healthcare reform legislation, and Obama's 30 words about immigration reform in this state of the union address have once again raised the volume of naysayers that claim immigration reform is dead or has permanently stalled. A significant number of comments in response to my article last week, also express the same pessimism accompanied by hateful and derogatory remarks about undocumented immigrants. As a social scientist, I am dismayed by such categorical claims that completely ignore the facts and creates a self-fulfilling prophecy that paralyzes politicians and denies undocumented immigrants a better way of life .

During the past four years I have studied the educational experiences of college-going undocumented students, or DREAMers. During that time, I have come to learn that in fact, despite the countless newspaper articles, news features, and blogs that claim Americans do not support providing a path to legalization to undocumented immigrants, information readily available to the general public does not support that conclusion. Despite America's ambivalence about undocumented immigrants, support for legalization has steadily increased across all sectors of American society. Over the past five years, poll data indicate that no less than 2/3 of Americans have expressed their support across several public opinion polls. In this article I will discuss three main indicators of the overwhelming support for legalization; endorsement from national organizations and corporations, in-state tuition legislation for undocumented students, and public opinion polls.

Support from National Organizations, Corporations, and Religious Groups. In chronicling the struggles of bright, hard working, and dedicated undocumented college students, I came to learn that over 100 national and 800 local and regional organizations publicly support the Dream Act and CIR. Many have written to members of congress to urge the passage of legislation. These organizations are not just pro-immigrant or activist groups, but rather they represent mainstream institutions. Some of these include, AFL-CIO, American Federation of Teachers, National Association for College Admissions Counseling, National Education Association, National PTA, American Council on Education, and the College Board. Support also includes letters of endorsement from the presidents of the most influential and prestigious universities in the world, Harvard University, and Stanford University.

In addition to professional and educational organizations, corporate America has also expressed support for the Dream Act and CIR. On April 3, 2009, Microsoft was one of the first Fortunate 500 companies to publicly declare their support. The following month, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other Wall Street companies including Macy's, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, American Express, JP Morgan Chase, and Pfizer, also announced their support.

Religious groups have also increased their advocacy for immigration reform. Though initially the Catholic church was the most visible group, many other protestant denominations, including evangelicals, have joined the call for immigration reform. Legalization for undocumented immigrants is supported by the leadership of various Protestant groups, including Baptist, Pentecostal, Episcopal, Lutheran and Presbyterian congregations. In fact, the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), issued a resolution in October 2009 advocating for comprehensive immigration reform. In an article published in the Washington Post on January 28, 2010, Galen Carey, the NAE's Director of Government Affairs, stated,

"As immigrants have joined our churches and communities, they have become our friends, our co-workers, and indeed, our brothers and sisters. We grieve when families remain separated for decades, when workers are treated unfairly, and when our neighbors lack the basic protection of the law. For these reasons and many others the National Association of Evangelicals, representing 40 denominations with more than 45,000 congregations, has joined other faith communities in asserting the moral imperative of enacting meaningful immigration reform now."

There is no question about the overwhelming support for immigration reform from some of the most influential institutions and organizations in American society. But the evidence doesn't end there. State governments have also indicated their support for their undocumented residents, particularly college-going undocumented students, through various state laws.

In-state Tuition Legislation for DREAMers. Charged with the task of educating all children regardless of their legal status, states have been frustrated by the federal government's failure to address immigration reform. For over a decade, California, Texas and nine other states, have struggled to provide access to higher education to college-going undocumented students because federal law prohibits most forms of financial aid. Tired of waiting, these states have taken matters into their own by passing state laws that allow undocumented student residents to be eligible for lower in-state tuition rates. In addition to Texas and California, the other states are New York, Illinois, Utah, Washington, Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico, Nebraska, and most recently Wisconsin. Texas and New Mexico have gone a step further by also providing access to state funds to pay for tuition costs. These states, where 77% of the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants reside and are the most affected by the legal limbo of these residents, have formally recognized the potential economic and social contributions of undocumented college students and have decided to invest in nurturing their academic talent.

Public Opinion Polls. The most revealing evidence for the overwhelming support for providing a path to legalization for the undocumented population is found in public opinion polls. As recent as December 2009, when the unemployment rate was at its highest and everyone was concerned about healthcare reform, a BSG Poll found that 66% of Americans support CIR. Support was consistent across the political spectrum, with 69% of Democrats, 67% of Independents, and 62% of Republicans supporting CIR. Furthermore, 55% agreed that the economic crisis makes it more crucial than ever that we solve immigration problems. A comparison of previous BSG polls highlights the consistently high support for legalization. In May 2009, 68% supported legalization, in November 2008, support was 67%.

The BSG poll data is consistent with other national polls conducted over the past five years. A May 2009 poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found that support for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants has risen from 58% in 2007 to 63% in 2009. In May 2009, a Washington Post/ABC News poll showed 61% of respondents supported legalization. Similarly, an April 2009 poll by New York Times/CBS News found that 65% of respondents supported a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. In December 2007, the same poll found 66% support.

The facts are clear: A supermajority of Americans, a term the President and Congress should understand very well, support legalization for undocumented immigrants. National organizations support it. Wall Street supports it. Religious groups support it. States support it. Two-thirds of Americans have supported it for the past five years. Journalists, academics, and civic and business leaders have a responsibility to remind the federal government about the high levels of support and to challenge misinformation by extremist groups. The President and Congressional elected officials must recognize that their fear of losing reelection for supporting immigration reform is not supported by the facts presented here. They must not allow the hateful minority voice of anti-immigrant groups to hijack our democracy. Despite their ambivalence about their immigrant neighbors, the majority of Americans agree that the best course of action is legalization. Congress and the President must be responsive to the views of the majority instead of the extremist minority.