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Guest-Worker Proposal Has Wide Support

Most of those surveyed also favor stricter border enforcement and a pathway to citizenship for immigrants already in the U.S. illegally.

April 30, 2006|Mark Z. Barabak | Times Staff Writer

Californians generally favor a carrot-and-stick approach to illegal immigration, mixing tougher border enforcement with a guest-worker program and a pathway to citizenship for those already in the United States, according to a new Los Angeles Times poll.

By a ratio of more than 3 to 1, those surveyed said they preferred a comprehensive approach to the immigration issue, which President Bush and a bipartisan group of U.S. senators advocate, rather than the more punitive legislation passed by the House of Representatives. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have spent months trying to reconcile those conflicting proposals.

Support for a broader approach to illegal immigration was shared by Californians of all political persuasions and throughout the state, regardless of where they lived. Overall, there was little difference of opinion between Latinos and whites, although Latinos were somewhat more supportive of a guest-worker program and more strongly opposed to building a fence proposed along the U.S.-Mexico border to curb illegal entry.

In general, Californians in the Times poll were marginally more supportive of a two-track approach to immigration than were Americans as a whole in a separate Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll.

But Californians also viewed illegal immigration as a bigger problem than most Americans, with 42% of the state's residents considering it one of the biggest problems facing the country, compared with 31% of those surveyed nationally.

And the concern of Californians has risen, at least as the issue affects their home state. In an open-ended question in which they were asked to identify the most important problem facing the state, 34% named illegal immigration. That compared with 13% who gave that response in a statewide survey last October, before congressional action and mass demonstrations across the country vaulted the immigration issue to heightened attention.

"It's a serious problem," poll participant Greg Hoshabekian, 53, said in a follow-up interview. Hoshabekian, a semi-retired law enforcement officer who lives in Apple Valley, said he has no confidence that politicians will find a solution. "I'll start learning Spanish, I guess."

The Times poll, which found most California voters to be unhappy with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's overall performance, also turned up poor marks for his handling of the immigration issue. The governor last year praised the freelance patrol of the border launched by the Minuteman Militia. But more recently he has condemned talk in Congress of a border fence -- calling it a return to "the Stone Ages" -- and advocated incentives as well as tough enforcement to address the nation's illegal immigration problem.

Overall, 49% of voters disapproved of Schwarzenegger's handling of the issue, while 28% approved. Nearly six in 10 Latinos disapproved of the governor's performance on immigration, compared with fewer than five in 10 whites.

The Times Poll, under the supervision of director Susan Pinkus, interviewed 1,863 Californians from April 21 through April 27. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 2 percentage points.

The national Times/Bloomberg poll on immigration issues was conducted April 8-11 and had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

A guest-worker proposal giving temporary visas to noncitizens who want to work in the U.S. drew strong support from Californians, with 64% of those surveyed backing the proposal and 19% opposed. Three in four Latinos favored the guest-worker plan -- which is the centerpiece of the Senate immigration plan backed by Bush -- compared with six in 10 whites.

"They're decent human beings," said 50-year-old Deborah Dise of San Francisco, a backer of the guest-worker plan. "They're working. They're not using up the welfare system. They should be given a chance to become citizens."

Another Senate proposal, establishing a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants who step forward, pay a fine and learn English, was even more popular, drawing support from more than seven in 10 Californians. Fifteen percent were opposed.

Two of the provisions in the tougher House legislation fared less well. Just 32% of Californians supported a proposal that would both build a border fence and classify illegal immigrants as felons, compared with 55% who were opposed.

However, the proposal drew a sharp split along ethnic lines: more than seven in 10 Latinos were opposed, compared with nearly five in 10 whites. Although 39% of whites were in favor, 20% of Latinos voiced support.

After hearing all the alternatives, 70% of Californians said Congress should combine tougher border enforcement with a guest-worker program, compared with 22% who favored a strictly get-tough approach.

Those sentiments compared with 63% of Americans who said lawmakers should take a comprehensive approach and 30% who said Congress should focus solely on toughening enforcement of border control laws.

Greg Potnick, a 53-year-old retired police officer in Sacramento, was one of the latter.

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