The Pew Research Center released on Thursday the results of two new national surveys that reveal the views Hispanics and Asian Americans have on the issue of immigration.
The findings of the two surveys were surprising. They show that a strong majority of Hispanics and Asian Americans believe that relief from the threat of deportation is more important for many of the 11.7 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States than a path to citizenship.
“By 55% to 35%, Hispanics say that they think being able to live and work in the United States legally without the threat of deportation is more important for unauthorized immigrants than a pathway to citizenship,” authors of the surveys wrote. “Asian Americans hold a similar view, albeit by a smaller margin—49% to 44%.”
Together, Hispanics and Asian Americans make up two-thirds of the 28 million immigrants who are in the U.S. legally. Both groups overwhelmingly voted for President Barack Obama during the 2012 elections and ultimately helped him get reelected.
Hispanics alone account for about three-quarters of the undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. Meanwhile, Asian Americans make up more than one-tenth of the undocumented population.
Wide support for path to citizenship
Nonetheless, a path to citizenship continues to receive a lot of support from Hispanics and Asian Americans.
The Pew surveys show 89 percent of Hispanics and 72 percent of Asian Americans support a provision included in the Senate-approved immigration reform bill that would pave a 13-year path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
That provision also has support from many pro-immigration reform leaders like Kica Matos of the Center for Community Change. Matos is among the advocates who say they are not willing to settle for anything less than a path to citizenship.
“They don’t want to be part of a group of second-class citizens,” she recently told VOXXI of undocumented immigrants. “They came to this country aspiring to become U.S. citizens.”
At the same time, there are other advocates who say though citizenship is the ultimate goal, there’s more urgency in stopping deportations than pushing for a path to citizenship.
“One thing that’s clear is that you can’t decide your status preference if you’re already deported,” said Tania Unzueta of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON). “Citizenship has been used as a bargaining chip for too long, and there’s a clear path toward it that starts with stopping deportations.”
Authors of the Pew polls are quick to point out that “the findings from the same surveys that for unauthorized immigrants, deportation relief is more important than a pathway to citizenship could conceivably create an opening for legislative compromise.”
Other findings of the Pew surveys
The Pew surveys also show that not all Latino immigrants in the U.S. want to become American citizens. In fact, the authors of the surveys point out:
“… among all Hispanic immigrants who are in the U.S. legally, just 44% have become citizens; the remainder are legal permanent residents.”
The Pew surveys also show that both Hispanics and Asian Americans view immigration reform as an important issue. When asked if it is important to them that members of Congress approve immigration reform legislation, 69 percent of Hispanics said yes as did 44 percent of Asian Americans.
And if immigration reform dies, 43 percent of Hispanics and 48 percent of Asian Americans said Republicans would be mainly responsible. Meanwhile, 34 percent of Hispanics and 29 percent of Asian Americans said they would mostly blame Democrats and/or Obama.
The Pew surveys come at a time when Obama has been receiving a lot of pressure from immigrant rights activists — and most recently from Democrats in Congress — to use his executive power to stop deportations. Pressure is mounting now that members of Congress will go home for the holidays without approving any immigration reform legislation.
The surveys also come at a time when some House Democrats and immigration reform supporters are saying that legislation with a path to legal status — rather than a path to citizenship — has a better chance of passing in the Republican-controlled House.