Citizenship. It’s the centerpiece of immigration reform if you listen to Democrats and immigrant-rights advocates.
But for some of the demographic groups that care the most about immigration reform — Hispanics and Asian Americans — deportation relief is more important.
A survey released by the Pew Research Center on Thursday looks at attitudes among those two groups when it comes to immigration policies.
Citizenship is still a priority. Eighty-nine percent of Hispanics and 72 percent of Asians staunchly support it. But when asked to prioritize, citizenship took a backseat to removing the threat of deportation and granting undocumented immigrants work authorization.
The survey gives weight to the idea, championed by some activist groups, that President Obama should use his executive power to halt or reduce deportations.
The president sees this as being outside his authority, but such an action wouldn’t be without precedent. In 2012, his administration created a program that lets young undocumented immigrants live and work in the U.S. legally.
Marisa Franco, lead organizer for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network’s #Not1More campaign, responded to the Pew report on Thursday by calling out Obama.
“The numbers show that immigrant communities want relief and aren’t fooled by D.C. spin that tell them the president can’t do it,” she said in a statement. “The first stop on the path to equality is to remove the roadblock of deportations. We need immediate relief now.”
Congress could also pass legislation to quell deportations. But the most promising legislative push in years ended in a whimper this December.
The Senate passed a massive immigration bill in June, one that would have created a 13-year path to citizenship for many people living in the country illegally.
A similar effort died in the House of Representatives, however. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) wouldn’t bring legislation to the table without the majority support of his party.
The inaction in the House killed immigration reform in 2013, and some experts think passing a bill in the coming year would be even more difficult.
That’s turned the attention to Obama.
Deportation is serious concern among Hispanics, and 46 percent said they were worried about it on some level.
Removals have reached record highs under President Obama, and even though the numbers are projected to be somewhat lower in 2013 — official stats are still forthcoming — deportations have been far higher under Obama than his predecessors.
The survey suggests that deportation relief, either by Congress or by the president, would play well with many Hispanics.
That could provide an opening for lawmakers to consider legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants to remain in the U.S. legally without providing a path to full citizenship. A bill like that might be more palatable to Republicans in the House, as well.
The takeaway: Congress may have stalled on immigration reform this year, but the issue will remain important, especially during midterm elections next year and the race for the White House in 2016.