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GOP Voters Want Immigration Bill This Year

Illegal emigrants try and crossthe US/Mexico border. Photo courtesy of AFP.
by David Grant
Washington (UPI) Jun 22, 2006
Almost three-quarters of likely Republican voters believe immigration to be one of the most pressing issues on the American political landscape.

A poll released Thursday by the conservative Manhattan Institute reveals that 72 percent of the 800 respondents said it was "extremely" (40 percent) or "very" (32 percent) important that "Congress solve the problem of illegal immigration this year."

With House leadership punting immigration reform to a series of "summer hearings" around the nation this week, Tamar Jacoby, a senior fellow at the Institute, thinks that delaying action on the issue may cost the Republican Party in the November mid-term elections.

"I think it's a strong problem that the Republican Party is risking what I would call a national Pete Wilson moment," she said, referring to the GOP California governor whose anti-immigrant rhetoric crippled the standing of republicans in the state among Hispanics for so many years.

"They're looking like they'd rather grandstand on blocking something that the public really doesn't think is that bad," Jacoby said.

Wilson, then-governor of California and one-time presidential candidate, stumped for a ballot proposition denying non-emergency public services, such as health care and education, to illegal immigrants in 1994.

Additionally, the poll illuminated voter preference for a Senate-style comprehensive plan to a House-style enforcement-only provision. Sixty percent of the respondents said they would be more likely to support a candidate who supports a Senate-style plan with 17 percent opposing.

Conversely, 46 percent would likely support a candidate with a House-style bill -- but with the same percentage standing in opposition.

Support for a comprehensive plan was high even among members of the Republican base with 76 percent of white conservative Christians and 72 percent of very conservative Republicans in favor of the broader legislation.

"It sounds like Republican voters realize that we need comprehensive immigration reform," said Stacie Paxton, press secretary for the Democratic National Committee.

In a NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted of 1,002 adults nationwide from June 9-12, 50 percent favored the Senate's comprehensive plan while 33 percent favored the enforcement-exclusive tack taken by the House.

The Senate's bill would provide increased border security, a legalization program for current illegal aliens, and a temporary worker program. The House bill allows only for heightened security provisions.

Brian Nienaber, vice president of The Tarrance Group, the national Republican polling firm that conducted the survey, said that the poll showed a voters' unexpected equanimity towards the plan to grant illegal immigrants what supporters call "an earned path to legalization" -- but opponents insist is "amnesty."

Those who thought a comprehensive plan was not amnesty edged out those who did 49 percent to 39 percent.

Jacoby also rejected the notion that immigration hardliner Bill Bilbray's recent victory in California's 50th Congressional District should be taken as nationally indicative.

"I think Bilbray just pulled that election -- it's a 65 percent majority republican district and he barely got 50 percent. He's claiming he won big on immigration? I think it's a misreading to look at the Bilbray race and say 'We won big on immigration and we can use it across the country.' Our poll suggests, 'Whoa, whoa, wait a minute,'" Jacoby said.

Seventy-one percent of those surveyed describe illegal immigration as an extremely or very serious problem. When asked about their most important issues, terrorism and national security ranked first (with a 20 percent stake), but illegal immigration tied with moral values (at 15 percent) for the second highest percentages. The situation in Iraq was of utmost importance to 7 percent of those surveyed.

Ninety percent of the respondents were white, Nienaber said, a fact that reflected the GOP's relative makeup.

The survey was conducted by phone from June 12-15.

Source: United Press International

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