Friday, March 3, 2006

Republicans and Democrats in Congress would accept a guest-worker plan, according to a new poll that found more than 70 percent of senators and representatives supporting the idea.

The National Journal Insiders Poll, a survey of members of Congress, found both parties are ready to accept a plan that would allow more foreigners to legally come to work in the United States.

Support was 73 percent among Republicans and 77 percent among Democrats.

“There’s a clear bipartisan consensus behind a temporary-worker program,” said Don Stewart, spokesman for Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican. “Now comes the more difficult task of actually doing something about it.”

He said that’s because the agreement on a guest-worker program belies the wide range of possible programs.

Mr. Cornyn’s own proposal, sponsored along with Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, would set up a three-year cycle under which foreign workers could come for two years then return home for a year. They could renew for two additional cycles, but the program would not provide a path to citizenship.

The proposal also gives illegal aliens now in the country five years to leave and no options for a path to citizenship.

That proposal stands in contrast to the multi-step path to citizenship envisioned by Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat.

Their worker program would last six years and be open to both new workers and current illegal aliens. Both would have the chance to apply for permanent residency and then citizenship at the end of the program.

The Insiders Poll printed some of the responses from members of Congress, without naming them, and the divide over the issue was clear.

“Ten million [aliens] ain’t going anywhere,” one Democrat said. “Wake up and smell the coffee, and start a guest-worker program with a pathway for citizenship.”

But a Republican, who also said a guest-worker program could pass, stressed the need for a “delicate balance to ensure that our borders are secure and workers coming to America do so temporarily.”

One Democrat who supported a guest-worker program said there’s little chance of success.

“The reality is that the prospects of a guest-worker bill are dead,” the Democrat said. “The Republican base is too animated over immigration, and the Dubai fiasco will embolden them to further separate from the president.”

The Insiders Poll surveyed 111 members of Congress. On the guest-worker question, 84 responded — 41 Republicans and 43 Democrats.

In July the Insiders Poll found that immigration and border security topped the list of issues “most on the minds of your constituents these days” for Republicans in Congress.

In that poll, 17 of 37 Republicans put immigration tops, far above the No. 2 issue of the economy. For Democrats, though, immigration was at the top of the list for just two of the 35 members who responded.

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