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Michigan's Policy Insiders Take Softer Stance On Immigration Than U.S. Public

There have always been differences in the opinions Americans and those work in and around government view certain policies. But for a wedge issue like immigration, Michigan policy insiders' views are strikingly different from the public's.

In both polls, immigration policy preferences were broken down into four categories, with respondents asked to indicate their preference on how to address the issue of unauthorized immigrants living in the United States. Categories ranged from making all unauthorized immigrants felons and deporting them to complete amnesty — allowing them to stay in the U.S. and eventually qualify for citizenship.

Members of Michigan's policy community are significantly more open to unauthorized immigrants achieving citizenship than the general public. In the third round of IPPSR's Michigan Policy Insiders Panel (MPIP), conducted earlier this year, a large majority of the respondents, 81%, indicated they would prefer to offer some path for unauthorized immigrants to become U.S. citizens. Of that majority, 56% would like to see unauthorized immigration meet certain conditions before qualifying for citizenship. The remaining 25% believe unauthorized immigrants should remain in the U.S. and eventually qualify for citizenship with no penalties. In a larger survey of the U.S. public, the American National Election Studies (ANES) conducted in 2016, the responses were less lenient. About 67% percent would allow some form of citizenship, but only 10% are in favor of unconditional amnesty, while a similar majority, 57%, are in favor of a path to citizenship with conditions.

A hardline approach is also favored by a larger proportion of the U.S. public than Michigan policy insiders. While only about 6% of insiders would prefer to make all unauthorized immigrant felons, and deport them back to their country of origin, about 17% of the U.S. public prefer that solution. Roughly the same proportion of both Republican insiders are in favor of a guest-worker program for unauthorized immigrants — a step short of citizenship that would permit residency — 13% of insiders favor this proposal compared to 15% of the U.S. public.

Wile Republican insiders may be taking a more moderate tack than the public, Democratic insiders are positioned significantly to the left of their base. Nationally about 17% of Democrats support unconditional amnesty while 44% of Michigan Democratic insiders do.

The increased leniency of insiders crosses party lines — though not entirely. This is one area where Republican insiders and their counterparts in the public are unified. Support for unconditional amnesty among Republicans in both surveys is in the low single digits. Still, Republican insiders in Michigan are notably less hardline. About 28% of Republicans in the U.S. public support the deportation approach, while only half as many Michigan Republican insiders do.

Conditional amnesty is the clear frontrunner of the policy options. Majorities of among all political affiliations — save for U.S. Republicans, where there was a plurality — support a path to citizenship through conditional amnesty. Those suggested requirements ranged in the surveys included paying back taxes, having proficiency in English and passing a background check.

The largest limitation of this comparison is that while MPIP exclusively surveys Michigan insiders, the ANES is a national poll. It's possible that among the Michigan public there is a less significant contrast.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) plan instituted under President Obama, has been under fire as President Trump works to follow through on the campaign promises he made regarding immigration. While President Trump moved to end the program in the next six months , he has vowed to revisit the issue if congress cannot come up with a plan to legalize DACA by then. In a bipartisan effort to come to an agreement about what needs to be done to help congress legalize the program, President Trump sat down with U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York to try to make a deal that both sides could live with.

With the possibility of having both parties involved in making revisions to immigration policy comes the reality that there will need to be great compromise on both ends. While some republicans have spoken out in support of DACA, many are holding fast to their demand for severe policy change. With the end of DACA looming on the horizon, democrats are working to ensure a superior conclusion can be reached. Taking into account the opinions of their constituents, lawmakers have an uphill battle ahead to redefine immigration policy in the United States.

The Michigan Policy Insiders Panel (MPIP) is a project of Michigan State University’s Institute for Public Policy and Social Research (IPPSR), in conjunction with the Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy (CLOSUP) at the University of Michigan. The goal is to understand how policymakers learn about state problems, develop political influence, and interact to produce policy solutions. The survey included high-ranking members of state government agencies, current members of Michigan’s Legislature and their staff assistants, association and corporate lobbyists, state relations officers, think tanks, public relations professionals, and state political media personnel.

Emily Krupp is an undergraduate policy fellow, and Simon Schuster is a graduate policy fellow, at the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research.