Many pundits assumed that this would be the year that comprehensive immigration reform became law. The conventional wisdom was that President Obama’s re-election and his strong showing among Hispanic voters would force Republicans to go along.
Now, halfway through the year, prospects for immigration reform have dimmed significantly.
Americans overwhelmingly feel that legal immigration is good for the country and think highly of immigrants.
Seventy-six percent have a favorable view of immigrants who work hard, support their families and pursue the American Dream. Most (55 percent) still support the concept of comprehensive reform that will secure the border and legalize the status of many of those currently in the country illegally.
But they also want the system to work so that the border will be secure enough to prevent future illegal immigration.
That point has become a major political problem for those who favor reform. The so-called Gang of Eight proposal in the Senate legalizes the status of immigrants first and promises to secure the border later. By a 4-1 margin, voters want that order reversed.
Additionally, while voters think highly of immigrants, they don’t trust the government, and that skepticism is growing.
In January, 45 percent thought it was at least somewhat likely that the federal government would work to secure the border and prevent future illegal immigration. Today, only 30 percent have that confidence.
The growing awareness of the border control issue has led to other shifts in public opinion, as well. Early in the year, Democrats were trusted more than Republicans on the issue of immigration. Now, the GOP has a 3-point edge in that area.
The president’s ratings also have slipped. Just 37 percent now give him good or excellent marks for handling immigration. That’s down from the mid-40s earlier in the year.
As public opinion moves against the Senate plan, the Gang of Eight is trying to keep up. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., now said he will vote against the law he helped write unless it includes stronger border security provisions.
One simple solution to resolve the trust issue would be to give voters rather than the government the right to determine when the border is secure. However, there is no way the Senate will give voters that authority.
Instead, many Democrats simply assume that the Republicans will ultimately give in and support the current plan because they have done so poorly among Hispanic voters in recent elections.
But it’s not clear that supporting immigration reform would change that. As political analyst Harry Enten noted recently: "Latinos don’t vote Democratic just because of immigration policy. They vote Democratic because they are more ideologically ‘in sync’ with the Democratic Party."
There is also a risk to Democrats in ignoring the border security issue. Andrew Levison and Ruy Teixeira recently wrote an article in The New Republic titled, "Why the Democrats Still Need Working-Class White Voters."
These voters are least likely to trust the government and most interested in preventing future illegal immigration.
With that political dynamic, it’s hard to see a major gain for either party from the current immigration debate. In the short term, it’s easier to see a tough road ahead for the Gang of Eight plan.
If it survives the Senate, the House is likely to respond with a plan that emphasizes border security first.
To find out more about Scott Rasmussen, and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit creators.com.