The surge of Central American children crossing the U.S. southern border has shifted the politics of immigration, weakening one of the most potent arguments Democrats plan to make against Republicans in November and in the next presidential election.
In the past month, the number of Americans who rank immigration as the nation's top problem has tripled in surveys conducted by Gallup — putting the issue on par with the economy and unemployment as the most frequently named issues facing the country.
And this past week, a poll from Pew Research Center found a 5 percentage point drop in support for the Democrats' long-stalled immigration fix, which would beef up border security while at the same time creating a path to citizenship for many of the 11 million people living in the United States illegally.
That idea remains popular, backed by 68 percent of those polled, having gained support in the past few years as the recession and a surge of Border Patrol agents quieted the border. But Roberto Suro, a former director of the Pew Hispanic Center, said that when the media focuses on trouble at the border, support for such a citizenship effort drops. In the same recent Pew survey, a plurality of Americans said they favor swifter deportations of migrant children and trust Republicans more than Democrats to fix the issue.
"The most potent imagery in immigration politics has been when things are out of control," said Suro, now a journalism professor at the University of Southern California. "Those three words often spell a turn toward restriction, regardless of what the actual circumstance is."
The political changes come as alarm rises about the more than 57,000 children who have entered the country since October, many of whom are languishing in makeshift detention facilities as the country's overwhelmed immigration courts fail to keep pace with the need to provide each child a hearing before a judge as required by a 2008 law.
Supporters of restrictions on immigration are gleeful at the shift, which has happened just weeks after predictions of long-term electoral doom for Republicans in November because of House Speaker John Boehner's decision not to allow a vote on an immigration overhaul.
Read more at the Associated Press