April 15, 2013 -- Polls about immigration reform tend to test the attitudes of the broad American public. But what about undocumented immigrants, the people the bill will likely affect most?
A new poll released Monday asked undocumented immigrants whether they would apply for full citizenship if a comprehensive immigration reform bill passes, and nearly nine in ten (87 percent) said they would do so. Thirteen percent said they do not know or are not sure if they would seek citizenship.
The survey was conducted by opinion research firm Latino Decisions on behalf of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) and America's Voice Education Fund, a pro-immigration reform group. Pollsters interviewed 400 Latinos who self identified as being in the U.S. without legal documentation, a group that's not easy to poll.
The result comes as the Senate is expected to take up an immigration bill this week. The legislation would provide a path to citizenship for many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants. But it would reportedly exclude people living in the U.S. without authorization who arrived after December 2011 from applying for legal status, and then citizenship.
Undocumented immigrants have little say in the political process since they cannot vote, but their attitude towards citizenship cuts at the heart of an argument used by skeptics of a path to citizenship: that the undocumented would be satisfied with obtaining a lesser legal status.
Two-thirds of the 5.4 million legal Mexican immigrants to the U.S. who are eligible for citizenship have not applied, according to a February Pew Hispanic Center report. Only 40 percent of the 2.7 million granted a green card under the 1986 amnesty bill had become naturalized citizens by 2009.
"I've practiced immigration law for 15 years and I've dealt with thousands and thousands of people and not one of them said 'I need a pathway to citizenship,'" Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho), who is negotiating an immigration bill in the House, said in February.
The Latino Decisions poll also gets at some of the potential reasons why undocumented immigrants want citizenship. One of the biggest reasons? Most have deep ties in in United States.
Eighty-five percent of undocumented immigrants said they know a family member who is a U.S. citizen. Sixty-two percent said they have a U.S.-born child, who are automatically granted citizenship. Almost eight in ten said they came to the U.S. for a better job for themselves or more opportunity for their family and children.
The vast majority of undocumented immigrants also say they have been in the U.S. for a long time. Sixty-eight percent said they have been living here for more than a decade, 22 percent said they have been here between five and ten years, and only 11 percent said they have been here for five years or less.
Evidence from the past shows that undocumented immigrants may have had a weak appetite for citizenship. But after years of establishing roots in the U.S., things might be different this time around.