Americans who pay close attention to politics will be tracking returns in the contentious GOP Senate primary in Missouri this Tuesday night, August 2. With a week to go before the primary, we wanted to understand how undecided Republicans in the state—those who have not yet made up their minds in the primary—view not only that election, but a few key issues.
While both inflation and the Second Amendment were top concerns for the 13 voters we interviewed in a pair of focus groups on July 26, we probed on another issue that matters to them: immigration.
The key takeaway from these Arnold Ventures-sponsored groups is that most of these voters were quite receptive to two bipartisan measures that have passed the House and are being actively negotiated in the Senate. They require at least some Republican support to become law.
One piece of legislation is the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which was passed in the House in March 2021. The bill would establish a program through which certain immigrant farmworkers in the U.S. could earn legal status, reform the H-2A temporary agricultural worker program, and establish an E-Verify employment eligibility verification system for all agricultural employment. Data from the Department of Labor indicates that roughly 49 percent of all farmworkers are undocumented, demonstrating the relevance of the bill before the respondents.
Of the 13 GOP voters, 10 were in favor of this bill after hearing a short description.
Teresa M., 56, from Kansas City, saw this as another step to advance our country, or as she put it, “something that we’ve always done…found a way for our immigrants to make a pathway to citizenship.”
Similarly, Diane B., 47, from Platte City, said that undocumented immigrants are “contributing to this country by producing goods and crops … and I think that if there is an established structured program, I think that should be made available to these illegal farm workers.”
Some of the other respondents in favor of the bill had different reasons behind their support. Richard F., 32, from Platte City, and Jocee M., 25, from Joplin, saw the bill as an avenue to better the economy. Richard noted: “[T]hat’s more people to pay taxes and more money that goes in to help pay for things.” Jocee agreed, saying, “If there’s already 49% that do it illegally, why not help them do it [legally] and we could get taxes off of it?”
In one focus group session, none of the six respondents were concerned that this bill would lead to a flood of illegal immigrants coming across the southern border trying to find agricultural work. Lisa R., 43, from Smithville, saw border control as a separate issue. She argued, “Somebody who’s coming in showing a high work ethic in an industry that is very hard pressed to find dedicated workers, and then giving them a path to citizenship, aligns with a lot of the values that our country was founded on to begin with.”
However, in the other session, of the three respondents that did not agree with the bill, one of their arguments was that it would cause an influx of illegal immigrants. Thomas F., 55, from Lee’s Summit, thought that “establishing a program like this is just going to entice more and more to come over. And the way the government works, they’ll have just farm workers now. In six months, they’ll expand it to include another group. Another six months, they’ll expand it to include another group. It has to stop. We need to do something by illegal immigration, but this is not the right way to do it.”
Kathy R., 65, from St. Louis, who stated that she was on the fence on her opinion over the bill, agreed with Thomas, and added: “We need the farm workers because we don’t have enough of our citizens wanting to do that work….The other part of me is like: they are coming over illegally. Where do we stop?”
Next, we presented respondents with a second piece of legislation, the DREAM Act. This bill, if became law, would permanently protect approximately two million immigrants who came to the United States as children but are vulnerable to deportation. The DREAM Act would provide current, former, and future undocumented high-school graduates and GED recipients a pathway to U.S. citizenship through college, work, or the armed services.
Of the 13 respondents, 9 supported the DREAM Act. Those in favor conveyed similar reasoning. Jocee said, “I feel like if they’ve gone through schooling here and they have worked here and they have spent most of their life here, then they should be entitled to citizenship as much as we are.”
Similarly, Michael M., 45, from Farmington, stated, “We need to help kids in all sorts of ways. And if they are coming up through the country and earning a living, getting a GED, and going to school, that’s showing that they want to be productive in this society. So, why not help them that way?”
Yet some respondents raised issues with the bill. John M., 54, from Wildwood, opposed the concept of the bill on “the feeling that it’s going to encourage more people to send their kids across the border illegally,” which is of greater concern to him than the problems the act purports to solve. Other respondents shared John’s apprehensions.
Despite long-standing Republican skepticism of laws that they worry would reward illegal immigration, these focus group findings suggest that Republican Senators from conservative states would be in safe political territory if they were to support these bills.
Rich Thau is the president of the research firm Engagious, which specializes in message testing and message refinement for trade associations and advocacy groups. Jill DiTommaso is an intern at Engagious and a student at Haverford College.