Americans are nearly united in their support for an English language requirement as part of the comprehensive immigration legislation, according to a new poll.
Nearly 76 percent of adults said immigrants who came to the United States illegally should speak and understand English before gaining legal status, according to a Pew Research/USA Today poll released Sunday. The proposal being weighed by the Senate requires those immigrants to be proficient in English or be enrolled in a program to learn English.
The poll also sheds light on a key fight between conservative Republicans and reform supporters concerning whether or not the proposal should secure the border "first" before granting legal status to immigrants in the United States illegally. The poll shows Americans are divided on the issue, as senators are scheduled to vote Monday on a measure aimed at strengthening border security within the comprehensive proposal.
Less than half of adults polled – 43 percent – said immigrants here illegally should only be allowed to pursue legal status after there is effective border control, while 49 percent say the two can occur simultaneously, according to the survey.
About 60 percent of Democrats say border security can coincide with immigrants seeking legal status and about 56 percent of Republicans say the borders must be secured first.
There is also a deep rift not only between Republicans and Democrats, but between the bases and the more moderate factions of each party as well. The poll said tea party Republicans favor securing the border first 67 percent to 27 percent; non-tea party Republicans are split evenly, 47 percent to 47 percent. About three quarters of liberal Democrats say applying for legal status should begin alongside increasing border security but only about 53 percent of conservative and moderate Democrats concur, the poll said.
"Perceptions of the nature of the border problem factor into public views on this debate," said the Pew Research memo accompanying the poll results. "Those who believe the illegal immigration rate has risen are more likely than others to say legal status should come only after improvements are made to border security."
While best estimates indicate immigration in the United States has slowed as the economy floundered, 55 percent of the public thinks that the rate is higher now than it was 10 years ago.
The immigration reform debate comes as Republicans seek to soften their image among Hispanics, the fastest growing voting demographic. But even as the Senate nears closer to passing a bipartisan measure, the Republican-controlled House shows little sign of interest, or an ability to pass a counterpart bill.
Americans are evenly divided on whether or not they think Congress can pass a bill, with 53 percent saying passing a comprehensive measure is very or somewhat likely, and about half of adults say it's also an important piece of legislation that should be passed, according to the poll.
The poll surveyed 1,512 adults from June 12-16 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 percent.
Updated 06/26/13: This article has been updated to clarify the English language requirements in the Senate immigration proposal.