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Most Back Tighter Border and a Guest-Worker Plan

April 13, 2006|Ronald Brownstein | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Most Americans say the United States should confront the challenge of illegal immigration by both toughening border enforcement and creating a new guest-worker program rather than stiffening enforcement alone, a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll has found.

By a solid 2-1 margin, those surveyed said they would prefer such a comprehensive approach, which a bipartisan group of senators has proposed, to an enforcement-only strategy, which the House of Representatives approved in December. Support for a comprehensive approach was about the same among Democrats, independents and Republicans, the poll found.

"Do you remember 100 years ago when we were saying, 'Give us your tired, give us your poor?' " said David Wells, a Republican who works as a golf course groundskeeper in Plant City, Fla. "How come that doesn't still stand? I don't think it is right to send all the people back who have been here 15 or 20 years, who have families here, who have been good, who haven't been in jail and have been productive."

Still, Americans showed markedly less enthusiasm for allowing illegal workers to continue to flow into the U.S. than they did for proposals to permit the estimated 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants already here to remain legally. And even some of those who rejected efforts to remove the illegal immigrants already in the U.S. made clear in interviews that their opposition was based more on practical than philosophical objections.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday April 16, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 64 words Type of Material: Correction
Immigration poll: An article and photo caption in some editions of Thursday's Section A said a Times/Bloomberg poll found less enthusiasm for allowing new illegal workers into the U.S. than for permitting those already in the country to remain legally. What the poll actually found was less support (54%) for establishing a guest-worker program than for granting legal status to those already here (66%).

"I don't think you should be in the country illegally, and I think the people who are here are taking away opportunities from Americans," said Bill Erner, a Democratic factory worker from Dubuque, Iowa. "But the ones that are already here, it would be almost impossible to find them all and send them back to Mexico or wherever they came from."

The nationwide Times/Bloomberg poll contacted 1,357 adults, including 1,234 registered voters, from Saturday through Tuesday. The survey, supervised by Times Polling Director Susan Pinkus, has a margin of sampling error for both groups of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The poll contained ominous findings for the Republican House and Senate majorities as the midterm elections approached.

Although President Bush's job approval rating was essentially unchanged from his 38% showing last month, the new poll found Democrats opening double-digit leads on the key measures of voters' early preferences for the November balloting.

Democrats lead Republicans 49% to 35% among registered voters who were asked which party they intended to support in their congressional districts this fall. When registered voters were asked which party they hoped would control the House and Senate after the midterm election, 51% picked the Democrats and 38% the GOP.

On both questions, independent voters preferred Democrats by ratios of about 3 to 1 or more.

The Republicans "don't have it anymore," said Alfred Smith, an independent in Bucks County, Pa., who runs a printing company. "They don't trust each other. They don't look like they are all together anymore."

Forecasting the effects of these broad national attitudes on the results in individual congressional contests is an imperfect science. Republicans could be helped this fall because relatively few House districts are closely balanced between the parties, and many of the key Senate races are in states that already lean toward the GOP.

Even so, the Democratic advantage found in the poll is nearly three times the advantage Republicans had in 1994 when they made landslide gains in congressional elections.

In these early soundings for 2006, Republicans face the potential reemergence of a gender gap that Bush narrowed in his 2004 reelection. Although men split evenly when asked which party they intended to support in November, women preferred Democrats 57% to 31%, the survey found.

Democrats hold a commanding advantage not only among single women, a traditional Democratic constituency, but among married women, a swing group that broke toward Bush and the GOP in 2004.

The impasse in Washington over restructuring immigration laws has led many to predict the issue could become a flashpoint in this year's election. But the public does not yet seem impassioned about the controversy: Although 84% of poll respondents agreed that illegal immigration was a problem, 31% identified it as one of the country's major problems.

The idea that drew the most support in the survey was allowing illegal immigrants who had been living and working in the U.S. to obtain visas to work here legally, and to move toward citizenship if they met a list of requirements.

Two-thirds of those polled said they supported such a proposal.

Still, about one-fifth of those responding agreed with Katherine Asaif, a Colorado Springs, Colo., schoolteacher, who rejected such ideas. "I understand why people want to come to the United States," she said. "But it does seem to be rewarding the law-breaking."

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