Poll finds Trump voters support protections for Dreamers

Nereyda Calero, (center) an undocumented Mexican immigrant brought to the U.S. when she was 8 years old, stands with her family during a Martin Luther King Jr. event in downtown Missoula in January 2018. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file photo)

(CN) — A majority of Americans who voted for President Donald Trump want to protect immigrants illegally brought to the U.S. as children from deportation, according to a poll released Wednesday, suggesting the president may have to reconcile competing immigration policy demands ahead of the November election.

The poll put out by Politico showed strong support for not deporting members of this class of immigrants – dubbed “Dreamers,” in reference to the proposed DREAM Act – irrespective of partisan alignment, age, gender, education, ethnicity or income.

Sixty-eight percent of Republican respondents, for example, said they support Dreamers, with 71% of conservatives and 64% of people who approve of the job Trump is doing also coming out against deporting those who arrived illegally as children.

Only 12% of those polled thought Dreamers should be deported, and 10% did not know or did not have an opinion on the matter.

Perhaps most tellingly, even 69% of people who voted for Trump in 2016 after a campaign replete with hardline anti-immigrant rhetoric, including a specific promise to deport Dreamers, came out in support of not deporting them, according to Wednesday’s poll.

The poll’s results portend that Trump will likely have to strike a delicate balance between paying back the support of immigration hawks in love with his ideas to deport millions of migrants and build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico and courting Latino voters he is hoping to woo in order to shore up his chances at re-election on Nov. 3.

In 2017, Trump, in tandem with former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, began moving to wind down the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, an Obama-era policy that deferred deportations for hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought to the U.S. as children on a renewable two-year basis while also offering them work permits.

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on the legality of the move in November, and the high court is expected to rule on Trump’s authority to wind down the program in the coming weeks.

A ruling on DACA would not necessarily affect all Dreamers currently in the U.S., however, as estimates typically number their ranks around 2 to 3 million. But the fact remains that Trump is likely to have to make a decision dictating the future of a broad swath of immigrants less than five months before Election Day, putting him in a tenuous position with regard to immigration policy, which was a hallmark of his brand leading up to his election in 2016.

This could be tricky, considering Politico’s poll shows more than three out of four registered voters feel Dreamers should not be deported, including 61% who think they should be allowed to become citizens provided certain requirements are met and 17% who feel they should be allowed to become legal residents if they meet those requirements.

Luis Fraga, a professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame, said in an interview Wednesday that the poll’s results showing robust support for protecting Dreamers is really just more of the same, seeing as that support “has been pretty consistent over the last 10 or 15 years.”

Fraga said there has been “clear and consistent majorities in favor of providing some sort of path to citizenship” for immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.

Despite broad, reliable support for getting these immigrants on track to citizenship instead of deporting them, Fraga said efforts to vote on protections for Dreamers have been mired in Congress for years, with one resolution currently being held up largely by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

Similar to how Trump will have to reckon with the calculus and consequences of any move he makes on immigration, Fraga said political chess is holding up congressional resolution when it comes to Dreamers.

“The reasoning behind holding up a vote is largely to protect GOP incumbents in competitive districts from being challenged by further-right candidates,” Fraga said.

The professor added that “as an electoral strategy for protecting Republican incumbents it’s understandable, but the inconsistency of that with public opinion has been apparent for quite some time.”

Complicating the electoral strategizing over Dreamers even more, Fraga said some immigrant rights advocacy groups have worried that if Dreamers are protected via government enactment, there will be no further effort to promote comprehensive immigration reform.

“They have expressed worry that this would satisfy the conscience of the nation,” he said. “This could be used an excuse to say ‘we’ve done everything we could.’”

For just one example, Fraga offered that the U.S. will still have to decide what to do about the undocumented immigrant parents of Dreamers even if the Dreamers themselves are spared deportation.

And it’s worth noting that large-scale immigration reform would be left to former vice president and presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden should he defeat Trump in November.

Wednesday’s poll showed that 43% of registered voters trust Biden, who was vice president when DACA was enacted in 2012, with handling immigration issues more than Trump, who got 41% support.

While Biden may be vulnerable to criticism on an uptick in deportations during the Obama years, he has vowed to reinstate DACA within his first 100 days as president.

Immigration continues to be a starkly partisan issue, according to Politico’s poll. Eighty percent of Democrats say Biden would best handle immigration issues, whereas 85% of Republicans felt Trump would.

Even though Trump has more support from Republicans than Biden does from Democrats, according to the poll, Wednesday’s survey also showed that moderates favored Biden on immigration 48% to 32%.