Today, Gov. John Kasich of Ohio will announce his candidacy for the 2016 Republican nomination. While the governor enters a crowded GOP field, he immediately jumps to the top tier of candidates in their support for comprehensive immigration reform.
As I discussed last month, Kasich has endorsed legal status for some of the undocumented population and recognizes the absurdity of deporting 12 million immigrants. Some may argue this is not in line with the Republican Party, but recent polling and estimates of the cost of deportation suggest otherwise.
A July Fox News poll found that 64 percent of registered voters support setting up a system to enable undocumented immigrants to obtain legal status. Overall, the numbers are up from 49 percent in 2010. According to the poll, Republican support for legal status has jumped eight percent since 2010. Fox called it a “major shift in how voters want to handle illegal immigration.” The poll also found a 15 percent drop in support for a deportation-focused policy in the last five years. These trends show that Americans, including self-identified Republicans, are more supportive of immigration than they have been in the past.
A poll commissioned by Burning Glass found that less than 35 percent of the GOP voters in early primary states–Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina–oppose legal status for undocumented immigrants. Furthermore, the polling found that nearly 75 percent of GOP voters in 10 battleground states support legal status, with only 22 percent supporting deportation.
Besides sympathy with the plight of illegal immigrants, Republican voters have another reason to favor a path to legal status: economics.
Conservative estimates of the cost of mass deportation hover around $415 billion over 20 years. The top estimate is around $615 billion. This does not take into account the estimated economic contraction that occurs when millions of producers and consumers participating in the U.S. economy are deported. There is nothing fiscally conservative about this type of damage to the U.S. economy.
Moreover, immigration experts agree that expanding legal status to some immigrants is smart policy. Earlier this month, the Hoover Institution at Stanford University published a survey of 25 top immigration experts, which found that 83 percent support legal status for some of the undocumented population.
With such a crowded GOP field, the candidates are searching for ways to stand out. While Scott Walker has apparently chosen to stand out by being more restrictionist on immigration, Kasich is using his pro-immigration position to appeal to a broader section of the U.S. electorate. Only three of the 16 GOP candidates support reducing legal immigration. Moreover, the other 13 don’t just support the status quo, but support expansion of legal immigration. Other frontrunners, like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, have voiced support for legal status for some of the undocumented population.
As the Republican primary heats up and debate season begins, onlookers should not conflate the incoherent anti-immigrant tirades of Donald Trump with the GOP as a whole. The addition of Kasich to the race will increase support for comprehensive immigration reform in the 2016 election.