Three-quarters of voters say the Boston Marathon bombings should make Congress pause before pushing ahead with immigration reform, according to a new poll that seeks to gauge Americans' feelings as lawmakers begin debating the hot-button issue.
Voters tended to think illegal immigrants and their families have had a negative effect on the U.S., but support for immigration reform remains strong, with 58 percent supporting it and just 25 percent opposed.
And in a striking finding, more voters said the legislation before Congress is "immigration reform" than said it was "amnesty."
"The folks who were in favor of the Senate approach have been doing a really, really good job of pitching it hard — 'it's reform it's not amnesty, it's reform it's not amnesty,'" said Michael McKenna, the pollster at MWR Strategies, a GOP polling firm.
The poll of 800 registered voters, taken April 19 to 22, came after the Gang of Eight senators negotiating on immigration released their bill.
The crux of the legislation is a deal to grant illegal immigrants legal status, but to withhold a full pathway to citizenship until after the Homeland Security Department takes steps to secure the border and to create a mandatory electronic verification system for all businesses to check their workers.
Backers argue that the bill will make the country more secure by bringing most of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants out of the shadows, cutting down on the number of people law enforcement has to worry about.
The Senate has held three hearings on the bill and is slated to begin considering the legislation in committee Thursday.
But in the wake of last week's Boston Marathon bombing, and the news that the two suspects gained admission to the U.S. through the asylum system, some lawmakers have said the Senate should hit pause.
The new poll suggests voters agree: 75 percent said given what happened in Boston, the immigration system "needs to be strengthened before we can move forward to immigration reform." Another 15 percent said there's no need to wait, and 10 percent were unsure or refused to answer.
"That's a proxy for border security. I think they're saying 'We would prefer you address security before you wander off into this other thing,'" Mr. McKenna said.
Immigration reform backers have pushed back against the notion of a delay.
"I can't help but think as I listen to the debate around here that, you know, for some there will always be a reason why we cannot go forward on immigration reform," Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, said Tuesday.
The new poll found voters generally supportive of the Senate approach. Only 32 percent said it was an "amnesty," while 38 percent said it was "immigration reform."
And overall, 58 percent said they favor immigration reform, compared to 25 percent who opposed taking action.
But for most voters, it's more resignation that eagerness that is pushing them to embrace action.
Indeed, asked what the best reason is to support reform right now, 32 percent said it was time to get a resolution to the thorny issue, and 30 percent said the country needs to get its actions to line up with its laws. Just 16 percent said immigration reform will help the economy, and only 12 percent said it was an issue of fairness.
For many Republican leaders, tackling immigration now is a way to get rid of a tricky political issue. The GOP's presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, won little more than a quarter of Hispanic votes in last year's election.
Still, there's little doubt among voters about who will benefit if Congress does act: 52 percent said passing a bill will be a boon for Democrats, while just 18 percent said the GOP stands to gain more.
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