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US Poll Finds Little Support for Immigration Amnesty - 2001-09-04

Immigration is a prominent issue on the agenda for this week's White House visit by Mexican President Vicente Fox. The two will discuss the future of the millions Mexicans living in the United States illegally. President Bush has been considering various options, including a possible blanket amnesty for Mexicans who hold jobs here. A new poll finds little support among Americans, including Hispanic Americans, for any large scale amnesty.

Just over half of the 1,000 people surveyed nationwide think an amnesty for illegal Mexican immigrants is a bad idea. What's surprising though, is that by a two to one margin, Hispanic Americans said they would be less likely to vote for George Bush if he supports a blanket amnesty measure for the estimated three million illegal aliens from Mexico. "For advocates of amnesty, they have a difficult case to make," says Steven Camarota, who is with Washington's Center for Immigration Studies.

"This is the kind of issue where there is a very big difference between what the Hispanic leadership advocates and what the rank and file Hispanic people think in the United States," he says. "It is they who feel the most job competition. It is their schools that are often most overcrowded and as a consequence they tend to not be the enthusiastic supporters of high immigration, legal or illegal, that Hispanic leaders are."

Not surprisingly, conservatives by and large, think amnesty is a bad idea. And, according to the poll, conducted by the Zogby public opinion research firm, even some 55 percent of likely Democratic voters feel the same. "The standard argument is you don't want to reward lawbreakers," says Gabriela Lemus, director of the pro-immigration, League of United Latin American citizens.

"When you look at other polls that have come out, where they've talked about legalizing a limited number of undocumented aliens who can prove they've been living in the United States, the numbers change," he says.

But this new public opinion survey suggests the White House would face an uphill battle in trying to change existing immigration law. And these figures may help explain why President Bush has taken the idea of a blanket amnesty off the table, despite support for it from Mexican President Vicente Fox. The two leaders are expected to discuss general principles, but are not likely to agree to a specific plan. Over the past four years, more than 1,000 Mexicans have died from exposure, trying to illegally cross the border into the United States. To prevent such tragedies, both countries were aiming to develop a plan in time for Wednesday's state visit by President Fox. But now President Fox says he expects it will take as long as six years to complete a review of immigration reform.