- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 29, 2004

Hispanics polled this month are split on President Bush’s immigration initiative, with some respondents changing their minds upon hearing the full details of the plan.

When first asked, 42 percent of all of those polled were aware of the temporary-worker initiative and supported it, said Miami pollster Sergio Bendixen. However, he said, opposition to the plan doubled once respondents were informed that most workers would have to return to their home countries.

Forty-five percent disapproved of Mr. Bush’s plan. Among registered voters, that figure was 47 percent.

The poll of 800 Hispanic respondents was conducted Jan. 20-26 and has a margin of error of three percentage points.

Mr. Bendixen polled both legal and illegal immigrants for the study that purports to be a representation of the nation’s estimated 30 million adult Hispanics. Twenty percent of those polled were acknowledged illegal immigrants. The poll didn’t break down the nationality of survey participants.

Mr. Bush proposed a guest-worker initiative that would grant illegal workers in the United States legal status for three years in order to work, with the ability to renew for another three years.

“After reading these respondents the reaction to the president’s plan from labor, Democrats … [and others], some of those polled change their minds,” said Mr. Bendixen, who is working on a plan for the New Democrat Network to strengthen the party’s voting majority in the Hispanic community.

“In fact, [some] felt it was done as an effort to gain votes. … There was then a good deal of skepticism over the proposal,” he said.

Still, 45 percent overall also supported the plan, a number that dropped to 42 percent among registered voters.

“That is the Achilles’ heel to the president’s plan,” Mr. Bendixen said yesterday. “What started with support for the plan ended up as divided.”

Thirty percent of respondents who were registered voters said that they support the re-election of Mr. Bush, who received 35 percent of the voting bloc’s support in 2000 to Al Gore’s 62 percent.

Mr. Bendixen added that the findings told him “Latinos would much prefer an outright legalization program, but the president’s proposal is looked at as a step in the right direction.”

The president’s plan, which some say is geared toward appealing to the crucial Hispanic voting bloc that increased from 7 percent of the electorate to 8 percent between 2000 and 2004, is being criticized by both parties.

Some Democrats and many of the Hispanic activist groups say the plan doesn’t go far enough and are looking for a way to more rapid legal residency, while some Republicans assail the idea as a reward to those who have crossed the border illegally.

Respondents in the poll reacted more positively to the immigration plan proposed by the predominantly Democratic Congressional Hispanic Caucus that would allow undocumented immigrants a way to earn legalization and become U.S. citizens.

That proposal, introduced last week by Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican, and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, has more momentum than the president’s plan, which has not been presented as legislation.

While Mr. Bush and his advisers have worked hard to cultivate a strategy to win the Hispanic vote, the polls found that at 15 percent, immigration ranked fourth as an election issue, trailing jobs and the economy (30 percent), education (26 percent) and health care (20 percent).

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