- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 4, 2006

Americans are nearly evenly split over what to do about illegal aliens, according to a survey.

The poll, by the Pew Research Center and Pew Hispanic Center, found that 32 percent supported allowing undocumented aliens to stay permanently, 32 percent supported letting them have temporary worker status, and 27 percent said they should be required to return home.

The survey of 2,000 adults nationwide was released as the Senate debates which direction to go on handling illegal aliens.

One approach favors putting them on a path to citizenship; another approach would give them a deadline to leave the country and make them apply through existing channels; a third plan would raise the penalties for illegal aliens and their employers and increase law-enforcement deportation efforts.

“Partisan and ideological differences are evident in attitudes towards these options,” the report’s authors said.

“A plurality of conservative Republicans (46%) favors allowing some illegal immigrants to remain in the U.S. under a temporary worker program. In sharp contrast, the preferred option among liberal Democrats is to make it possible for illegal immigrants to stay in the country permanently.”

Nearly two-thirds supported the creation of a national database of eligible workers, and three-quarters said they favor a mandate that every job seeker have either a secure Social Security card or driver’s license.

The authors said they found ambivalence about immigration overall, with more holding positive attitudes toward immigrants even as nearly half said growing immigration “threatens traditional American customs and values.”

The poll found more agreement on stopping the illegal flow of aliens across the Mexican border, with particular support for penalties against those who hire illegal aliens.

The poll disputes the argument of many Democrats and some Republicans, including some of President Bush’s allies, that those pushing for a crackdown on illegal aliens are against immigrants.

Four percent of the poll respondents said legal immigration is a bigger problem, while 60 percent said illegal immigration is the bigger problem. An additional 22 percent said both are a problem, and 11 percent said neither is.

But the poll shows Mr. Bush is making headway on another message: that immigrants take jobs Americans don’t want. Nearly two-thirds agreed with that message — the highest percentage in two decades, tying the high in 1996, the last time Congress visited the immigration issue.

Pew also surveyed about 800 adults in each of five metropolitan regions, including Washington.

The Washington results showed that residents of the area were more welcoming of immigrants than the general population; that a strong majority support government-sponsored work centers for day laborers, who are often illegal aliens; and that fewer Washingtonians rate immigration as a problem compared with residents of other areas.

The national poll was conducted Feb. 8 to March 7 and has a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points.

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