Over 56% of US Adults Support Immigration Reform

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Over half of U.S. adults support immigration reform policies outlined in President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better (BBB) plan, according to a survey conducted by The Balance. Although immigration reform was among the least popular BBB initiatives (lowering health care costs, taxing the rich, and climate change policies were in the top 10), immigration policies still received majority support from survey respondents. 

Key Takeaways

  • Over half of U.S. adults surveyed by The Balance support immigration reform policies.
  • Immigration reform was one of the least popular BBB initiatives, but still earned majority support from survey respondents. 
  • Granting five-year work permits to undocumented immigrants was one of the most contentious points between liberal and conservative survey respondents.
  • Research suggests BBB immigration reform could benefit 6.8 million undocumented immigrants and increase their economic contributions by $17 billion annually.

Immigration provisions in the BBB could change the lives of millions of undocumented people, who in turn through their economic contributions could add billions to the U.S. economy every year. The House voted to pass the BBB in November last year but the bill is yet to be approved by the Senate.

In its survey, The Balance specifically asked respondents about two key immigration provisions of the BBB—awarding work permits to undocumented immigrants who have been in the U.S. for more than a decade and investing in the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to make the immigration process smoother.

Granting five-year work permits to undocumented immigrants who have lived in the country for more than a decade received 56% support from survey respondents, while 57% backed increased investment in U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to reduce backlogs, expand legal representation, and make the asylum system and border processing more efficient. 

The BBB proposal to grant five-year work permits to undocumented immigrants who have been in the country since 2011 would make nearly 6.8 million undocumented immigrants eligible to receive these benefits, according to estimates by bipartisan immigration reform organization, FWD.us. The organization estimates that over half (4.2 million) of such undocumented immigrants eligible under the BBB plan are essential workers, including more than 500,000 farmworkers. 

In addition to work permits, immigration relief in the BBB plan would allow undocumented immigrants who entered the country before Jan. 1, 2011 to obtain driver’s licenses and state identification cards, and travel outside the U.S. As a result, undocumented immigrants would be able to better support their families and communities, and attend colleges and universities.

Studies have shown that immigration can positively impact the economy, contributing to overall growth and productivity, innovation, and education. Immigrants create new jobs by founding new businesses, spending money on American goods and services, paying taxes, and raising the productivity of U.S. businesses.

FWD estimates that economic contributions of undocumented people who receive their work permits under BBB could increase by $17 billion annually. Work permits will allow more such immigrants to get jobs, and some to get better jobs. With that, they would also end up paying nearly $10 billion more in federal, state and local taxes every year. 

Political Divide on Immigration Reform

In The Balance’s survey of 1,800 U.S. adults, more than a third (36%) of respondents identified their political affiliation as conservative or very conservative, while just under a quarter (23%) said they are liberal or very liberal. The rest consider themselves independent, with more independents leaning conservative (24%) than liberal (16%).

Survey results showed a clear political divide between conservative and liberal survey respondents on BBB policies relating to undocumented immigrants. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of liberal survey respondents expressed support for granting five-year work permits to undocumented immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for more than a decade, while less than half (44%) of conservatives backed the measure—a difference of nearly 30 percentage points. 

However, 49% of conservatives supported increasing investment for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to reduce backlogs, expand legal representation, and make asylum and border processing more efficient. Liberal support was still significantly higher at 70%. 

Methodology 

The Balance surveyed 1,800 U.S. adults (aged 18+) from Feb. 8 to Feb. 13, 2022. The survey was fielded online via a self-administered questionnaire to an opt-in panel of respondents from a market research vendor. Respondents were required to be eligible to vote to qualify. Quotas were used to ensure national representation for generation, gender, race/ethnicity, and region using estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau 2019 American Community Survey as a benchmark.

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