- The Washington Times - Monday, May 21, 2007

Americans favor stronger border security and enforcement of existing immigration laws before any new immigration rules take effect, according to polls.

But a tough stance on enforcement of U.S. policy doesn’t mean the country is opposed to more immigration, pollsters say, as many surveys also show support for giving illegal aliens in the United States a path toward legal residency or citizenship.

Opinion polls on the immigration debate vary and often contradict one another. But most surveys show that better border security and enforcement of current immigration law are priorities for Americans.

Fifty-six percent of U.S. adults favored an “enforcement-only” approach to immigration reform with no path to citizenship for illegal aliens in the United States, according to a Rasmussen Reports poll conducted earlier this month.

When a path to citizenship for illegal aliens was added to the mix, the Rasmussen survey showed 42 percent in support and 44 percent opposed.

“Enforcement of existing laws is the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 priority for immigration reform among Americans,” said Scott Rasmussen, president of Rasmussen Reports. “That’s what voters think immigration reform means.”

A Los Angeles Times/ Bloomberg Poll from April shows that 40 percent support an enforcement-only approach to immigration reform, with 55 percent favoring an immigration policy that includes tougher enforcement of immigration laws coupled with a guest-worker program that would allow foreigners to work legally in the United States on temporary visas.

In a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll conducted this month, 50 percent of those surveyed opposed the creation of a temporary-worker program that would allow foreigners to enter the United States for several months to work but would not allow them to apply for U.S. citizenship.

The poll also showed 45 percent support for a 700-mile fence along the Mexico border.

The same CNN/Opinion Research poll also revealed that 80 percent favored a program that would allow illegal aliens living in United States to stay and apply for U.S. citizenship if they had a job and paid back taxes.

A USA Today/Gallup Poll conducted last month showed that 78 percent of respondents favored a program that would allow aliens living in the United States illegally to apply for citizenship if they met certain requirements.

“The U.S. is a nation of immigrants, but it’s also a nation of laws,” Mr. Rasmussen said. “It’s not a conflict for Americans to want both open immigration and strict enforcement of immigration laws.

Tamar Jacoby, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a free-market-based think tank, said most recent polls show support for a path to citizenship for illegal aliens ranging from 60 percent to 85 percent, provided the aliens meet certain criteria, such as English language proficiency and the paying of back taxes.

“This just shows that people are ready to deal pragmatically with the immigration problems we have,” she said. “You just can’t deport 12 million people who are living here illegally.”

Immigration is a growing concern for Americans, Ms. Jacoby said. Seventy-seven percent of the those surveyed for a Manhattan Institute poll last month said that they were “more interested” this year compared with last year in Congress passing immigration reform legislation.

“There’s an underlining anxiety in the country” over immigration, Ms. Jacoby said. “People are seeing immigrants in parts of the country where they never saw them before.”

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