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Former Democratic cabinet member and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson caused a bit of a kerfuffle recently when he knocked Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, for Cruz’s skepticism about immigration legislation that’s pending in Congress.
During a web interview with ABC News, host Benjamin Bell asked Richardson, "Do you think he represents most Hispanics with his politics?"
"No," Richardson responded, "He’s anti-immigration. Almost every Hispanic in the country wants to see immigration reform. No, I don’t think he should be defined as a Hispanic. He's a politician from Texas, a conservative state."
Critics later took Richardson to task for seeming to judge whether another politician was "Hispanic" enough, and the former governor proceeded to clarify in a Fox News interview that while he and Cruz disagree on immigration, "all I was saying is I don’t consider myself just a Hispanic and he shouldn’t be defined just as a Hispanic. We’re other things. That’s what I said."
We won’t wade into the question of what Richardson meant when he described Cruz, but we did think it was worth looking at whether the evidence supports Richardson’s claim that "almost every Hispanic in the country wants to see immigration reform."
We decided to take a look at the available poll data to determine whether Hispanic support for immigration reform is anywhere close to universal.
Finding poll data that speaks to this question is actually trickier than one might imagine. A typical national poll -- even one from a major survey firm -- usually doesn’t have enough Hispanic respondents to produce reliable results. So we had to look at polls that are targeted at Hispanic voters, which are much less common. Frequently, these Hispanic-focused polls ask questions in both Spanish and English, which adds to their reliability.
We’ll also note that Richardson used the term "immigration reform," which has any number of definitions. For this analysis, we will focus on the immigration policies that would allow a path to citizenship or other benefits to illegal immigrants, since those are the highest-profile and in many cases most controversial aspects of immigration proposals currently being discussed.
We found nine relevant questions over the past few years that polled Hispanics:
• Pew Research Center, February 2013: "What should be the priority for dealing with illegal immigration? Better border security and stronger enforcement of immigration laws, or creating a way for illegal immigrants to become citizens if they meet certain requirements?"
Among Hispanics, 49 percent said both should be equal priorities and 41 percent said creating a path to citizenship should be the priority, for a combined score of 90 percent supporting a path to citizenship. Eight percent said border security should be the priority. The poll surveyed 149 Hispanics, for a 9 percentage-point margin of error.
• Pew Research Center, March 2013. "Should illegal immigrants be allowed to stay in the country legally or not? If yes, should they be granted citizenship or permanent residency?"
Among Hispanics, 80 percent said they should be able to stay legally, of which 49 percent opted for citizenship and 26 percent favored permanent residency. Seventeen percent said they should not be allowed to stay legally. The poll surveyed 155 Hispanics, with a roughly 9 percentage-point margin of error.
• Pew Hispanic Center, October 2012. "Do you approve of President Obama’s program for unauthorized immigrants brought as children?" (This policy offers relief from deportation for unauthorized immigrants younger than 30 who were brought into the country as children and who are currently enrolled in school or have obtained a high school diploma or GED.)
Among Hispanics, 89 percent approved of the policy, compared to 9 percent who disapproved. The poll surveyed 1,765 Latinos with a 3 percentage point margin of error.
• Pew Hispanic Center, October 2012. "Thinking about immigrants who are living in the United States illegally, do you favor or oppose providing a way for illegal immigrants currently in the country to gain legal citizenship if they pass background checks, pay fines and have jobs?"
Among Hispanics, 86 percent favored the policy as stated, while 8 percent opposed it. The poll surveyed 1,375 Latinos for a 3 percentage point margin of error.
• Public Religion Research Institute-Brookings Institution, March 2013. "Should the immigration system allow immigrants currently living in the U.S. illegally to become citizens provided they meet certain requirements?"
Among Hispanic Catholics,74 percent supported the policy, as did 71 percent of Hispanic Protestants. The poll surveyed 450 Hispanics. The poll surveyed 450 Hispanics, for a margin of error of 5 percentage points.
• Public Religion Research Institute-Brookings Institution, March 2013. "Do you favor allowing illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to gain legal resident status if they join the military or go to college?" (This is a core part of the DREAM Act.)
Among Hispanic Catholics, 83 percent expressed support, while 68 percent of Hispanic Protestants did. The poll surveyed 450 Hispanics, for a margin of error of 5 percentage points.
• Latino Decisions-National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials-America’s Voice Education Fund, April 2013. "I want to ask you some questions about your views should immigration reform be passed this year. Suppose the law also allowed you to eventually become a United States citizen. Would you become a citizen or not?"
Alone among the polls listed here, this is the only one to specifically pose its question to undocumented immigrants. It found that 87 percent of undocumented immigrants would apply for citizenship, a tacit indication that they approve of the policy. The poll surveyed 400 undocumented immigrants, for a margin of error of 5 percentage points.
• Univision-Latino Decisions, November 2011. "Do you support or oppose the DREAM Act, which would provide undocumented immigrant youth a path to citizenship if they attend college or serve in the U.S. military?"
Among Hispanics, 83 percent supported the policy either strongly or somewhat, compared to 11 percent who opposed it either strongly or somewhat. The poll surveyed 1,000 Latinos for a margin of error of 3 percentage points.
• Latino Consortium-Latino Decisions, March 2013. "Congress is considering many different ideas to include in a new immigration reform law. … Which would you support more? The plan that would provide a clear pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, so long as they meet certain requirements, or the plan that would give them probationary status until the border is declared fully secure, and then they could start to apply for citizenship?"
Among Hispanics, 70 percent supported a clear pathway to citizenship, while 25 percent favored waiting until the border is secure. Poll surveyed 800 Latinos, for a 3.5 percentage point margin of error.
The polls that surveyed enough Hispanic voters to be reliable showed strong and consistent majority support for a variety of policies that might be characterized as "immigration reform." In some cases, the level of support reached 90 percent.
However, saying, as Richardson did, that "almost every Hispanic in the country wants to see immigration reform," overlooks the 8 percent to 25 percent of Hispanics who, depending on how the question is asked, expressed reservations about or opposition to those policies. The level of dissent among Hispanics is small, but it's not as infinitesimal as Richardson’s comment suggests. We rate his claim Mostly True.
Bill Richardson, web interview with ABC News, May 5, 2013
Washington Post, "Bill Richardson: Ted Cruz should not ‘be defined as a Hispanic,’" May 6, 2013
Bill Richardson, interview with Fox News, May 6, 2013
Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, "If No Deal is Struck, Four-in-Ten Say Let the Sequester Happen," Feb. 21, 2013
Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, "Most Say Illegal Immigrants Should Be Allowed to Stay, But Citizenship Is More Divisive," March 28, 2013
Pew Hispanic Center, "Latino Voters Support Obama by 3-1 Ratio, But Are Less Certain than Others about Voting," Oct. 11, 2012
Pew Hispanic Center, "Illegal Immigration Backlash Worries, Divides Latinos," Oct. 28, 2010
Public Religion Research Institute-Brookings Institution, "Citizenship, Values, and Cultural Concerns: What Americans Want From Immigration Reform, Findings from the 2013 Religion, Values, and Immigration Reform Survey," March 21, 2013
Latino Decisions-NALEO-America’s Voice Education Fund, "Survey of Latino Undocumented Immigrants," March 2013
Univision-Latino Decisions, "National Latino Electorate Poll Results," Nov. 2, 2011
Latino Consortium-Latino Decisions, poll toplines, March 18, 2013
Email interview with Karlyn Bowman, polling analyst for the American Enterprise Institute, May 7, 2013
Email interview with Charles Franklin, co-developer of Pollster.com and professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, May 7, 2013
Email interview with Mark Hugo Lopez, associate director of the Pew Hispanic Center, May 7, 2013
Email interview with Matt Barreto, political scientist at the University of Washington and principal with Latino Decisions polling group, May 7, 2013
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