Americans' Views on Illegal Immigrants Are Complex and Conflicted, Poll Shows

By N.C. Aizenman and Pamela Constable
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, June 4, 2007

Jason Woodward, 31, a financial analyst in Clarksville, Tenn., says that putting illegal immigrants on a path to citizenship would be issuing a "free pass for lawbreakers" but that an attempt to deport 12 million of them would be "wasting millions of taxpayer dollars."

Janet McIntee, 76, a retiree in Geauga, Ohio, supports a Senate plan that would lead to citizenship, but she has no sympathy for illegal immigrants.

"We have got to get ahold of who these people are and do something to make them legal," McIntee said.

Joshua Grimes, 28, an accountant in Saginaw, Mich., thinks illegal immigrants should pay a penalty for violating the law but be allowed to remain.

"There needs to be some kind of system put in place so they can become legal," Grimes said.

A new Washington Post-ABC poll and follow-up interviews found that Americans remain divided and uncertain about how best to deal with the estimated 12 million people living illegally in the United States.

The immigration debate in the past year has inspired heated rhetoric on talk radio and drawn hundreds of thousands of protesters into the streets, but follow-up interviews with participants in the poll revealed that many Americans' views are far more nuanced and complex.

More than half of those surveyed said illegal immigrants hurt the country more than help it, an opinion voiced by seven in 10 Republicans and about half of Democrats.

A slim majority believe in creating a pathway to citizenship, with younger people and Democrats far more open to the idea than Republicans and those over 55.

The number in favor of a guest worker program is almost identical -- 53 percent -- but on this issue, almost as many Republicans as Democrats back the concept. Those in the Western part of the nation are most supportive of it (65 percent), as are those in urban areas.

But the partisan divide resurfaced when people were asked what factors should be weighed the most in admitting immigrants. Democrats tended to say that reuniting immigrant families should be given priority, while Republicans were more likely to say that the skills of the immigrant should be paramount. The survey also found that those who oppose a Senate legalization proposal give a much higher priority to the issue of immigration than those who favor it in some form.

Not surprisingly, the war in Iraq and the economy were ranked by many as the most immediate and pressing issues.

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