Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R) has set in motion what may be the final legislative action on immigration reform this year—a Senate vote on whether to build a 700-mile fence along the Mexican border. Frist is calling for a Senate vote on the Secure Fence Act of 2006 which passed the House of Representatives last week.
In even considering this legislation, it is amazing how far the Senate has bowed to public opinion over the past six months.
Earlier national surveys by Rasmussen Reports surveys have consistently found that a solid majority of Americans prefer an enforcement-first immigration policy rather than the so-called “comprehensive” approach initially considered by the Senate last spring. Separate surveys also found support for building a barrier along the Mexican border and found that American voters were more likely to favor a Congressional candidate who emphasizes enforcement of existing laws rather than one who prefers expanding legal job opportunities for foreign workers.
To date, neither political party has gained a clear advantage on the immigration issue and it remains to be seen if the Senate vote will produce a clear partisan distinction. Neither party has actively supported proposals for strict employer sanctions, a reform with significant popular support.
Still, given the partisan dynamics, it will be quite interesting to watch how Senators in the most competitive races vote when this legislation comes to the Senate floor. In the Rasmussen Reports Senate Balance of Power summary Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Jim Talent (R-MO) are in races listed as “Toss-Up.” Five other incumbents are in races just leaning one way or the other (see state-by-state summary).
Overall, it’s safe to say that America’s political elite misunderstood the public mood with its early push for reforms that put primary emphasis on legalizing the status of undocumented workers already in the United States. Many who favored legalization or earned citizenship as the primary purpose of reform viewed those who favor border control anti-immigrant (or perhaps racist). However, Rasmussen Reports data shows an entirely different picture. Most who support an enforcement first policy also support a generally welcoming approach to immigration.
A look at all of our research on this topic makes it clear that neither political party has yet developed policy or rhetoric that reflect an understanding of the nuances of the immigration debate. It is also clear that the impact of the issue varies widely by region. In some southwestern states, it is considered the top issue over Iraq and the economy by a plurality of voters.
Rasmussen Reports is an electronic publishing firm specializing in the collection, publication, and distribution of public opinion polling information.
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Scott Rasmussen, president of Rasmussen Reports, has been an independent pollster for more than a decade.