Two new public opinion polls reveal that the majority of the American public believes the U.S. immigration system is broken, and that fixing it should include the creation of a pathway to legal status for unauthorized immigrants already in the United States. The polls, conducted by the New York Times/CBS News and USA Today/Gallup, indicate that Americans are deeply frustrated over unauthorized immigration and the dysfunctional U.S. immigration system that fuels it. Yet most of the respondents in both polls don’t believe that a get-tough, enforcement-only, deport-them-all strategy towards unauthorized immigrants is the best way to move forward. This should be heartening news to advocates of comprehensive immigration reform who understand that smart and targeted immigration enforcement must be coupled with a thorough revamping of our immigration system in order to be effective.

The New York Times/CBS News found that “the overwhelming majority of Americans think the country’s immigration policies need to be seriously overhauled.” Specifically, 44 percent said it “needed to be completely rebuilt” and 45 percent said it “needed fundamental changes.” When asked in particular about “illegal immigrants who are currently working in the U.S.,” 43% of respondents concurred that “they should be allowed to stay in their jobs, and to eventually apply for U.S. citizenship,” while an additional 21% said agreed that “they should be allowed to stay in their jobs only as temporary guest workers.”

Similarly, the USA Today/Gallup poll found that “two-thirds of Americans want the government to do a better job of securing the borders, but they are sympathetic to illegal immigrants who have been working hard and staying out of trouble.” More than three-quarters (77%) of respondents were “concerned that stricter laws would mean illegal immigrants and their families who have lived productively in the USA for years would be forced to leave.” In addition, just under three-quarters (74%) were “somewhat or very concerned that tougher immigration laws would lead to harassment of Hispanics.”

These polls underscore that most Americans want practical solutions to unauthorized immigration. And most Americans would seem to recognize that it is neither practical nor desirable to try forcing nearly 12 million unauthorized men, women, and children out of the country—along with the 4 million native-born, U.S.-citizen children with unauthorized parents. The attitudes reflected in these polls represent a rejection of the notion, still advanced by immigration restrictionists, that we can enforce our way out of the problem if we just spend enough money and deport enough people.

Photo by somefool.