The Language of Immigration Reform: Saying what people want to hear
By: Lori Chesser
Frank Luntz, pollster, strategist, Fox news commentator, and author of The New York Times best seller, Words that Work: It’s Not What You Say it’s What People Hear has some advice for immigration reform advocates. It might not be what all of us want to hear, but we need to listen.
Luntz appeared in Des Moines, Iowa, at a forum sponsored by the Iowa Immigration Education Coalition and the Partnership for a New American Economy (Mayor Bloomberg’s initiative) to share results of his latest polling.
“Americans are overwhelmingly dissatisfied with our current immigration system and are worried about its impact on the American economy and our quality of life.”
“Americans of ALL political stripes agree that a responsible, complete, federal solution is the ONLY solution.”
They overwhelmingly agree with this statement: “To continue to grow, America must attract the best and brightest, provide an earned path to legal status, hold those who broke the law accountable, and control who enters our borders.”
“Americans SUPPORT growing the economy through immigration. They want America to be globally competitive, and they know that a workforce of the world’s best and brightest helps get us there.”
Fully two-thirds of Americans believe that legal immigrants “boost the economy.” They agree with the statement: “In this 21st Century global economy, we must be forward thinking and ahead of the curve. Immigrants bring new ideas, new perspective, and new talent to our workforce. To compete with growing global economic powers like China and India, we need to think globally and recruit the very best from around the world.”
A majority of those polled also agree with this statement: “America’s immigration policy tends to get it backwards. We make it too hard for honest, hard-working immigrants who want to contribute to our country and earn their way to come here. And we make it too easy for those who just want to break our laws and come here illegally. We need to encourage legal immigration and discourage illegal immigration.”
Further, support for family-based immigration has eroded compared to that for employment-based immigration. In other words, more people believe we should emphasize what they see as the economic benefits of work-related visas as opposed to family reunification.
They also want the economic benefits coupled with better law enforcement, and like the idea of “simplifying the process.”
The polling also confirmed that most people don’t know the facts about immigration. Two-thirds believe that illegal immigration has increased in the past year, while actually it has drastically decreased.
However, immigration reform is one of the few bright spots in an otherwise grim view of the future of America and the American economy. Luntz asked the following question: “If the immigration laws were reformed to expand immigration for qualified and skilled legal immigrants, would that make you [more hopeful, neutral or less hopeful] about America’s economy in the future?” For 56% of both business leaders and the general population, the answer was “more hopeful.”
Not only that, but these people are willing to vote based on this issue. Luntz asked: “If all you knew about your Member of Congress is that they supported [immigration reforms as described above], would you be [more likely, neutral or less likely] to vote for them in the next election?” For business leaders the answers were 53% more likely, 31% neutral, and 16% less likely. For the general public the answers were 42% more likely, 40% neutral, and18% less likely.
Luntz believes that “smart” immigration reform is one of the few points where political consensus can be reached.
Immigration lawyers and other advocates need to think about these findings. We can celebrate them or argue with them or wish they were not true, depending on our own views. But we know in our guts that this is probably a good snapshot of American sentiment at this moment in history.
The question for us – if we want reform now rather than waiting another ten years – is how to either craft a plan for immigration reform based on these beliefs or explain it in these terms. No one trusts Congress, sadly (another finding in the polling), so, according to Luntz, “Change must begin with employers, business owners, and community leaders.”
That means us.