A majority of Americans still support some form of legalization for undocumented immigrants who are already in the country, but opposition to outright amnesty is growing, along with support for stronger border security, according to the latest public opinion polls.
In the last year, amnesty rumors have prompted tens of thousands of Central American children to try to enter the U.S. illegally in an effort to escape poverty and gang violence at home. This surge of migrant minors has at times overwhelmed detention facilities and the judicial system that must review each case.
Opponents of current immigration reform efforts say this humanitarian crisis is also sparking public anger.
“I think it is the straw that broke the camel’s back," said Bob Dane, who is with the Federation for American Immigration Reform. "This current surge of unaccompanied minors is proof positive that what we’ve been told, that the border is secure, isn’t true. In fact, its proof positive that the problem is getting worse and the public is upset.”
Public opinion polls do show a shift in American attitudes toward immigration policy, according to Mark Hugo Lopez, with the Pew Research Center.
“Certainly it seems there has been some movement and opinion, particularly among Republicans, away from supporting legalization," he said. "But at the same time [there is] a growing share of Americans -- Republicans, Democrats and Independents -- who say that it is important that some sort of significant new legislation pass.”
While a majority of Americans may support immigration reform, the conservative Tea Party wing of the Republican Party has been able to block any legislation on this issue.
“There is a very strong nativist sentiment afoot, reflected certainly in the Tea Party but many other conservatives as well, and they’re the ones important in House constituencies, and that’s really why we haven’t been able to take any action,” said Thomas Mann, a congressional scholar at The Brookings Institution.
Immigration opponents accuse President Obama of poorly managing the border and of creating an expectation of amnesty when he issued an executive order to end deportation of young immigrants already living in the U.S. Dane says these will be key issues in this year’s congressional elections.
“I would not want to be a candidate this year without a clear and concise answer, that I would expect from the public, on why we have an immigration crisis and what you intend to do about it,” he said.
While most Americans still support immigration reform, they now also say stopping the flow of undocumented immigrants should be the government’s top priority.