Biden's Immigration Plans Face a Warming Public Reception
(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)
Biden's Immigration Plans Face a Warming Public Reception
(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)
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President Biden, having vowed to undo Donald Trump’s most controversial executive actions on immigration, sent an immigration bill to Congress on the day of his inauguration. That bill includes an eight-year pathway to citizenship for the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, complementing other legislation aimed at immigration reforms. While some changes can be made through executive orders immediately, the bulk of Trump's immigration policies will take months, if not years, to reverse in the courts and in Congress.

But Biden’s efforts on immigration reform come at a time when the American public is more favorably inclined toward immigrants — and immigration reform — than ever before. The most recent data from the 2020 Chicago Council Survey show that two-thirds of Americans believe  unauthorized immigrants should be allowed to stay in their jobs and apply for citizenship, either without conditions (45%) or on condition of paying a penalty and waiting a number of years (23%).

Indeed, support for allowing these immigrants to pursue citizenship rose during Trump’s term in office, growing from 58% in 2016 to 68% today. And while Republicans and Democrats disagree about other immigration-related issues — including funding for enforcement agencies and the threat posed by large numbers of immigrants and refugees coming into the country — majorities of Republicans (52%), Democrats (84%), and Independents (68%) support a pathway to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants.

Pew Research Center data from June similarly reveals majority support among both Republicans and Democrats for undocumented immigrants having a way to stay in the United States legally, if certain requirements are met. On top of this, majorities across party lines favor Congress passing a law that grants permanent legal status to immigrants who came to the United States illegally when they were children. It appears this public support will be met with legislation, as Biden has said he will expand protections for those in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to include the ability to acquire a green card automatically upon completing an application, and thus a pathway to citizenship.

Support for these specific reforms matches a general shift in the American mood on immigration in recent years. Gallup polling conducted this summer found that three-quarters of Americans see immigration as a good thing for the country today, continuing a long, slow rise in favorable views over the past two decades. At the same time, the Gallup poll found more Americans support increases to immigration (34%) over decreases (28%), the first time this has happened in the pollster’s surveys dating back to 1965, the year in which the Immigration and Nationality Act passed Congress and dramatically overhauled the nation’s policies on entering the country.

Joe Biden isn’t the first Democratic president to take office with grand immigration reform plans, and the failure of the Obama administration to broadly succeed in that vein is surely a warning for the new administration. And the anti-immigrant attitudes that President Trump harnessed in 2016 have hardly dissipated among his core supporters. But as with many other issues, Trump’s strong embrace of anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies drove more Americans away from his positions than he attracted. In doing so, he built instead a larger well of support for reforms, which Biden may be able to tap.

Brendan Helm is a research assistant at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

Craig Kafura is the assistant director for public opinion and foreign policy at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

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