The report is attractive, thick and has a lot of impressive-sounding academic language, including some helpful findings.
But the news out of the latest Brookings Institute poll claiming majority support for amnesty does not give an accurate picture of what already was not a very credible poll.
The big headlines throughout the news media are that the rather large polling effort found that two-thirds of Americans support U.S. citizenship for everybody who broke immigration laws to live and work here.
But let's look at the options provided by the pollsters when the voters revealed what looks like majority support for amnesty.
Voters were asked to choose the "best way to solve the country's illegal immigration problem." And their two choices were:
. . . secure our borders and arrest and deport all those who are here illegally. "
. . . both secure our borders and provide an earned path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already in the U.S."
Given that choice, 68% of respondents chose the second option of citizenship.
Keep in mind that the people answering the questions don't have anything at stake such as feeling that their choice on the survey will cause anything to happen. They are simply asked to pick one of the two, and do it quickly if they want to get away from the pollster and back to their lives.
Since most Americans think of themselves as nice people and certainly don't want anybody to think they are hard-hearted, it is not surprising that only 29% told the pollsters they want mass deportations (although that is 6 percentage points lower than in 2011).
Is mass deportation a policy option even on the table in Washington?
How many of the 535 Members of Congress have been pushing for deporting ALL illegal aliens?
I'm pretty sure the answer is ZERO.
How many candidates for President in the Primaries last year called for mass deportations?
ZERO. In fact, they went out of their way to say they were opposed to mass deporations while also making it clear they were opposed to citizenship.
In order to beef up the percentage of people in the poll supporting the option of citizenship amnesty, Brookings offered a policy alternative to amnesty that doesn't even exist in Washington and probably hasn't since Eisenhower and FDR.
And to be sure to drive up the number supporting amnesty even higher, notice the decision of Brookings pollsters to add "arrest" to the deportation option. The option was not just about deporting "all" but also arresting them, conjuring up images of breaking down bedroom doors in the middle of the night and grabbing them off their children's soccer fields.
Brookings isn't unique in this deception. Nearly all news media polls the last few years have been rigged with the same false choice after the pro-amnesty groups found ways to ask questions to get the answers they wanted. About all we learn from these kinds of questions, though, is that Americans have a distaste for mass round-ups and mass deportations.
SURPRISING FINDING NOT IN THE NEWS STORIES
The 62-page report makes it difficult to find actual questions and offers no indication if we are seeing all the questions or just some.
But on Page 53, it does show that pollsters asked a separate question just about deportation. Voters were asked if they agreed or disagreed that:
We should make a serious effort to deport all illegal immigrants back to their home countries."
The wording differed from the other question in that it didn't mention "arrest" and it didn't say this is the "best way" to handle illegal immigration.
For whatever reason, 19% said they "completely agree" with mass deportation, and 24% said they "mostly agree." That makes 43% supporting mass deportation in this question. I doubt you saw that in any of the media stories about the poll.
Here's something rather interesting. I would have answered that question with a "mostly disagree." I don't think it is a good idea for any number of reasons to engage in mass deportations. But this poll found that 43% of American voters are quite a bit more hardline than the President of NumbersUSA is on the deportation issue.
I'm not quite sure what to make of the finding on this question except that it shows how much difference it makes how a question is asked and paired and where it is in the overall survey.
AMNESTY INTERFERES WITH WHAT REALLY MATTERS TO AMERICANS
From the mass media lately, you would think that passing an amnesty is the top priority in Washington right now. Washington certainly isn't fixated on putting unemployed Americans back to work in the fifth year of very high joblessness.
But the Brookings poll found that 65% of Americans say "highest priority" for Pres. Obama and Congress should be "improving the job situation." How do you do that with a comprehensive bill that greatly increases legal immigration of workers and throws 7 million illegal workers into the legal worker pool?
Apparently, people were allowed to choose more than one "highest priority" because "reducing the budget deficit" came in second with 56%.
Once amnesty legislation is actually introduced, we will begin to find out just how many trillions of extra spending will be needed to provide entitlements and public benefits to the amnestied foreign workers. But if our political leaders can't find a way to reduce the budget deficit now, how will they do it with all those extra expenses from the amnesty?
"Reforming the nation's immigration system" was chosen by 24% as one of their "highest" priorities. But it is difficult to know what people meant when they chose that. I would say that reforming our immigraton policies is my No. 1 priority! But how I would reform it is quite different from the way that Chuck Schumer wants to reform it. At the least, we can know that the percentage of people who want to reform immigration as one of the "highest" priorities and mean that they want an amnesty is significantly less than 24%, once you pull out people who want to reform it in the opposite way.
All past polling I've seen that gives people real options phrased in neutral language have found that the majority of Americans do not support an amnesty. And even fewer support an amnesty once they are led to see the effect on unemployed Americans and on budget deficits and the debt.
In February, the Center for Immigration Studies asked its poll question this way: "Would you prefer to see illegal immigrants in the United States go back to their home countries or be given legal status?” 52% said go back home. 33% said give legal status.
I think the CIS question was much more neutral than the Brookings one. But at the least, any honest observer seeing the widely diverging results of the two poll questions (and I do not doubt the general credibility of the actual methodology of either) has to conclude that Americans' opinions on immigration are likely quite complicated, probably somewhat poorly informed and subject to change depending on the context in which they hear the issue discussed.
Any claim that two-thirds or the majority of Americans want Congress to pass the Gang of Eight amnesty or something like it has to be seen as bogus.
ROY BECK is Founder & President of NumbersUSA
Updated: Thu, Mar 21st 2013 @ 10:53pm EDT