Correction to This Article
A graphic with a Sept. 12 Metro article on immigration issues contained incorrect labels for two categories. A corrected version of the graphic appears here.

Immigration's Impact Is On the Minds Of Va. Voters

By Robert Barnes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 12, 2005

It has become a standard refrain in Republican Jerry W. Kilgore's stump speech for governor, tucked in among the pledges for better pay for better teachers and the promises not to raise taxes:

Virginia officials "should not be spending more of your hard-earned tax dollars to encourage illegal immigration."

Kilgore's eagerness to talk about the issue is being watched closely not just by his campaign opponents but also by political analysts and immigration experts nationwide. Campaign experts say the issue can be a risky one for a politician, and immigration experts are interested in how a clearly federal responsibility is working its way into gubernatorial campaigns and dividing state legislatures and city councils.

Illegal immigration "is an issue of growing concern and even anxiety at the grass roots," said Roberto Suro, director of the Pew Hispanic Center. "It's one of those issues where politicians of both parties are trying to catch up with the public."

In Virginia, a new Washington Post poll shows, 33 percent of registered voters think "the growing number of immigrants" has been bad for their communities, compared with 21 percent who say it has been good. In Northern Virginia, where most of the state's immigrants reside, residents split almost equally on whether immigration has been good or bad for their communities.

The poll also shows that, statewide, voters agree with Kilgore's view that officials should not use public money to build centers where day laborers can gather to look for work, an issue that has sharply divided the Fairfax County town of Herndon.

By a ratio of 56 to 42 percent, voters say taxpayers should not fund the centers. And when respondents were asked how they would feel if some of those who used the centers to look for work were in the country illegally, opposition grew even stronger.

"There's definitely a huge gap between the elite and public perceptions on immigration," said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which supports stricter immigration controls.

But the battles emerging across the country often result in contradictory results and in many cases do not follow the "red-blue" pattern of partisan politics that has marked recent nationwide campaigns.

Democratic governors Janet Napolitano of Arizona and Bill Richardson of New Mexico, both of whom Kilgore mentions when talking about his interest in the issue, say smuggling and illegal immigration in their border states have created a state of emergency. And states and cities across the country are changing laws regarding education, social and medical benefits, driver's licenses and day laborers.

What is striking is that there is little agreement on whether the best approach is what Krikorian calls "accommodation or enforcement."

For example, Arizona voters, over Napolitano's opposition, approved a proposition last year enacting some of the nation's toughest laws regarding illegal immigrants. But in neighboring New Mexico, legislators granted in-state tuition to illegal immigrants, the ninth state to do so, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The state joined an unlikely electoral coalition of California, Illinois, Kansas, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Washington state in offering the benefit.


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