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Poll finds Hispanics split on illegals, immigration

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 17, 2005

More than 40 percent of Hispanic voters say the rising tide of illegal aliens is hurting the country, and more than one-third want the government to discourage additional legal immigration, according to a Democratic survey.

The survey of 1,000 likely Hispanic voters by veteran Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg for a Democratic advocacy group found that 34 percent think there already are too many immigrants in the U.S. and that new entrants into the country should be reduced or stopped altogether.

In one of the most politically significant findings in the Democracy Corps poll, 53 percent of Hispanics said they would support a Democratic candidate "who says the current level of immigration threatens American workers and our national security."

A number of Democrats recently have moved to the right of President Bush on immigration. Two Southwestern Democratic governors -- Bill Richardson of New Mexico and Janet Napolitano of Arizona -- have declared states of emergency in several counties within the past week, blaming the federal government for failing to secure the border from illegal crossings.

New York Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton also has given rhetorical support, saying she "is adamantly opposed to illegal immigrants," even as she supports education-assistance measures to help the children of illegals.

The poll also comes on the same day as the release of a Pew survey of 1,200 residents of Mexico that had 46 percent saying they would move to the United States if they had the means and opportunity, and 21 percent saying they would be willing to do so illegally.

The Democracy Corps survey results are surprising because U.S. Hispanics, who are now the largest minority bloc in the country, have traditionally been among the strongest supporters of immigration.

On the volatile issue of illegal aliens who are flowing across U.S. borders from Mexico and Central America, 41 percent of Hispanic voters now say "illegal immigration hurts more than helps the U.S.," although 52 percent think illegal immigration helps more than hurts.

A 56 percent majority also says the U.S. should encourage more legal immigration, Mr. Greenberg says.

"But while support for immigration is high and distinctive, it is not universal, which produces a less certain politics of immigrants," he said in a recent polling analysis of Hispanic voting trends that is being widely circulated in the party.

While some Democrats are talking tough on border security, the party also is pushing guest-worker proposals with Mexico and other immigration-liberalization measures.

The survey for the Democracy Project, whose leaders also include former Clinton strategist James Carville, has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.

A further sign of the political division among Hispanics on the immigration issue came in a poll of 1,001 U.S. Hispanics for the Pew Hispanic Center, separate from the Pew survey of Mexican residents.

The survey found six in 10 Hispanics born in the U.S. want to prohibit illegal immigrants from getting driver's licenses, compared with two-thirds of Hispanics born outside the U.S. who oppose such a move.

"Among Latinos in the United States, there's a majority that views immigrants favorably, but there is a significant minority concerned about unauthorized immigration into the country and its impact," said Roberto Suro, director of the Pew Hispanic Center.

The polls threaten to undercut the immigration issue for those Democrats who hope their proposals for amnesty, guest-worker programs and looser immigration rules will let them portray Republicans as anti-immigrant and increase their share of the Hispanic vote in the 2006 and 2008 elections.

Rising Hispanic opposition to immigration will "limit the ability of the immigration issue to become the central symbol of the Democrats' attentiveness to Hispanic needs and aspirations," Mr. Greenberg said in his report.

Mr. Richardson's sudden change of heart on the issue suggests that he senses the changes going on at his party's grass roots. As a congressman, he voted against border-control increases and opposed worker-verification measures to discourage hiring of illegals.

But last week, however, he signed an executive order that, in addition to declaring the emergency in four counties, spends $1.7 million on border-enforcement efforts, funds a homeland security field office and erects a fence to protect a Columbus livestock yard near the border where cattle have been killed or stolen.

Miss Napolitano followed suit Monday in four of her state's counties, with her spokesman saying Washington "has not done what it needs to do and has promised to do."

The Pew poll of Mexicans, the first of its kind to survey the country's residents on immigration intentions, also found that interest in living in the U.S. was hardly affected by a person's income, casting doubt on the hope that economic growth in Mexico will dampen immigration.

Among those with family incomes from three to seven times the Mexican minimum wage, 45 percent said they would go to live in the U.S. if they had the means and opportunity, while 47 percent of those with family incomes of less than three times the minimum wage said the same. Also, 35 percent of Mexicans with a college education said they would migrate to the U.S.

"Contrary to what people might expect, the inclination to migrate isn't contained among Mexicans who are poor or who are poorly educated and have limited economic prospects," Mr. Suro told reporters. "It certainly shows how broad and deep the whole psychology of migration has penetrated in Mexico."

The poll also found that 54 percent would like to participate in a guest-worker program, such as those being pushed by members of both parties in the U.S. Congress.

The margin of error in both Pew surveys is three percentage points.