The Monkey Cage has a guest post by Gyung-Ho Jeong, based on his recent article explaining the gap between public opinion and immigration reforms in Congress.
According to Gallup polls, less than a quarter of the American public supports expansive immigration policies, while more than three quarters of people prefer the status quo or more restrictive policies. However, as illustrated by the past legislation (and recent debates) over the legalization of undocumented immigrants and increased level of legal immigration, immigration reforms tend to produce legislative outcomes that are not consistent with public opinion. Why?
He argues the following:
my overall conclusion is that the seeming gap between public opinion and legislative outcomes cannot be completely explained by the dominance of pro-immigration interest groups. Rather, immigration legislation should be understood as a result of multidimensional negotiations in Congress—with both public opinion and interest groups having an influence on legislators.
But here's the thing. I don't think such a gap exists. The Gallup poll he links to shows overwhelming support for both a guest worker program and amnesty of some sort, which are the two most controversial--for a very vocal minority--parts of reform. Over the years I've cited tons of polls showing the same (here is a recent post) even for Republicans, who are typically framed as opposed to reform.
The problem here is interpreting polls. People will often say they do not want to let more people into the country. However, they are amenable to individual policies that will do just that. In other words, one question about whether you want the level of immigration to increase is not necessarily indicative of opposition to immigration reform. Further, support for amnesty does not mean letting more people in, but rather letting people already here stay.
In my opinion, and I've expressed it here in various way as well, the opposite is the case. The gap is not between a reluctant public and a centrist Congress, but rather a willing public and a Congress fearful of what many members see as a powerful minority.