The Corner

A Referendum on Immigration Policy? I Wish.

Allahpundit over at Hot Air notes that “We’re going to spend a lot of time being lectured about amnesty if Trump loses, huh?” Indeed. The anti-borders crowd has been trying for a while now to pre-spin the election as a referendum on “comprehensive immigration reform.” (See, for instance, here and here.) Counting on a Hillary victory, they’ve been claiming that it will represent a mandate to pass the Gang of Eight bill.

With two normal candidates, engaging in a sustained, substantive back-and-forth on the immigration options before us, that might be true. But that Bizarro World scenario is not the one we’re in. If Hillary wins, as expected, it’s certainly not going to be because the public supports her position that the only illegal aliens who should ever face the possibility of deportation, now or in the future, are terrorists or people convicted of violent crimes. (Don’t take my word for it; read the transcript.)

So, to see what likely voters actually think about the issue, we asked them. In a poll taken last week by Pulse Opinion Research, we avoided the tendentious wording of almost all MSM polling, along the lines of “Do you support letting hardworking undocumented Americans stay if they pay taxes and call their mothers every Sunday, or are you one of those Trump people who wants to drag screaming children out of their beds?”

The poll found that, by a margin of more than four to one (54-12), respondents thought there had been too little effort to enforce immigration laws vs. too much (20 percent thought it was just right). The importance of enforcement was also clear from these results: 58 percent said that we should first “require employers to verify the legal status of their workers,” as opposed to 35 percent who said we should first “give them work permits and put them on a path to citizenship.”

By nearly two to one (56-30), likely voters supported “a policy that caused illegal immigrants to return to their home countries” by penalizing employers that hire them, getting cooperation from local law enforcement, and denying them welfare benefits. This is the attrition-through-enforcement approach that all restrictionist groups and politicians (even Trump, in the finalized version, after his clueless meanderings) have always promoted.

The MSM polling doesn’t usually even bother to ask about the level of legal immigration, which is much more important than the amnesty question in the long run. More than half (54 percent) want legal immigration to be half a million a year or less. (It’s now about 1 million a year.) That figure includes 22 percent who want zero legal immigration. Only about 11 percent wanted immigration increased (doubling legal immigration was at the heart of the Gang of Eight bill).

Hispanic likely voters skewed less hawkish, as expected, but their responses weren’t radically different. About half thought there was too little immigration enforcement, about half supported attrition, they were evenly split on enforcement-first vs. amnesty-first, and a near-majority backed a legal immigration level half or less of what we have today, with only 13 percent wanting increases. (See the full results here.)

If Trump does lose, the airing of grievances will be a wonder to behold. But Republican officials would do well to avoid the panicky mistake in the 2012 autopsy, whose sole policy suggestion was to pass amnesty and increased immigration, which led to the Gang of Eight fiasco. GOP voters’ revulsion with their Brain Trust’s immigration policies was a major reason we got Trump. If the Brain Trust repeats that error, we could get something worse than Trump next time.