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Poll: Most back amnesty, with limits

August 23, 2001|By ROBERT NOLAN, Special to this newspaper

WASHINGTON (MNS) — The debate over amnesty for undocumented immigrants living in the United States continued this week, with advocacy groups releasing reports on voter awareness across the country.

As Republicans and Democrats engage in a political battle over President Bush's proposed amnesty for immigrants living in the United States, a bipartisan poll conducted by the Service Employee International Union surveyed attitudes of American voters, most of whom believe in selective legalization of illegal workers already within the United States.

"The debate about immigrants has already begun to penetrate the public consciousness," said Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, noting 43 percent of those surveyed had heard or read something about immigration recently.

The survey, which polled 1,000 voters, also found the 62 percent of those who responded believed in a certain set of criteria for legalization of resident immigrants, including employment, the regular payment of taxes and a clean criminal record.


While the survey found 56 percent of all voters favor restricted immigration after hearing both sides of the argument, many voters are still on the fence, leaving politicians wondering how to court votes.

"It is a very unique issue in that we don't find a lot of polarization by groups," said Ed Goeas, researcher at the University of Maryland and Republican pollster for the SEUI, one of the largest unions in the country. "Many of the voters are willing to buy both the positive and negative arguments."

This is something that has particularly frustrated Republicans, who have been increasing efforts to woo Latino votes in recent elections.

"You can't escape the fact that the numbers are very important," said Goeas. "Within the next 30 to 40 years the Latino vote is going to be over 25 percent, and they are very willing to keep an open mind and be reached out to."

But some conservative groups think for the Republican party, reaching out is a waste of time and resources.

"The time and energy that the White House is focusing on the Latino vote, although immense, is likely to fail," said James Gimpel, author of a report released by the Center for Immigration Studies, a conservative think tank that favors selective immigration. "By spending so much capital in pursuit of attracting the Latino vote, many other opportunities will be lost."

One of the major deterrents to Republican efforts, according to Gimpel, is Latinos, while often categorized as conservative in terms of religion and values, are predisposed to Democratic ideals regarding social policies such as the minimum wage and national healthcare when it is time to go to the polls.

"Democrats lead Republicans by a comfortable margin in the partisan identification of Latino voters," Gimpel said. "The core positions of the Republican party are simply not as attractive to Latino voters as are those of the Democratic Party."

Gimpel noted that the Latinos most attracted to the Republican Party, those with higher incomes and a strong command of English, would likely oppose the amnesty plan championed by President Bush.

"The Latinos who are most attracted to the GOP appreciate lower taxes, and they also take a conservative stands on moral and social issues," said Gimpel, "You're not likely to find these Latino Republicans going out on a limb supporting wide open immigration. Most of them stood in line and waited (for their citizenship)."

But Latino voters are not completely opposed to restricted amnesty, according to the SEIU survey, which claims many of the same requirements for citizenship were cited by Hispanic voters.

"The top two criteria are having no criminal record and paying taxes," said Lake. "The second were speaking English and having steady work."

As the debate continues, both groups have seen an increase in awareness regarding immigration issues through related topics that voters give more attention to at the polls. Like the SEIU study, which found an increase in support for controlled immigration primarily when immigration was directly related to other issues like taxes and employment, Gimpel said voters need to see a direct connection before reaching any conclusion.

"The issue of immigration is not much on voters minds," he said. "It is other issues that may be related that are."

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