U.S. Inaction Faulted, Immigration Polls Find

By Jon Cohen and Pamela Constable
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, November 16, 2007

In Maryland and Virginia, about seven in 10 people say the federal government has not done enough to deal with illegal immigration and one in five describe it as "a very serious" local problem, according to two newly released Washington Post polls.

In both states, majorities of those surveyed said recent immigrants have changed their communities, but there is wide disagreement about their impact on daily life. Attitudes are much harsher toward undocumented immigrants than toward legal newcomers.

Few issues inspire a stronger reaction than illegal immigration.

"I'm not willing to do a damn thing for anybody who's in this country illegally and is using the services and causing problems," Mary Ann Carr, 61, who works in a Glen Burnie law office, said in a follow-up interview to the survey.

For Michelle Stallard, 37, a homemaker in Front Royal, a top concern is that "they don't even try to follow our customs or speak English."

Dean Schaffer, 40, a software developer in Spotsylvania County, has a basic worry: "Are there going to be jobs for everybody?"

Intense feelings about undocumented immigrants stem from not only the range of concerns, but also the prevailing sense of federal inaction on illegal immigration, a feeling that it has become a local problem and an underlying ambivalence toward immigration more generally.

About a third of Marylanders said recent immigrants have made life better in their part of the state, while 27 percent said the new arrivals have made things worse. Virginians were evenly divided on the question.

The Virginia poll reveals additional detail behind the public's complex views about immigration. There, seven in 10 said most recent immigrants do not do enough to learn English or generally fit in with American culture and values.

Other concerns also drive negative opinions on illegal immigration. A third of Virginians cited illegal immigrants' use of public services, a quarter mentioned their breaking the law to get here, and one in eight said it was because of their effect on the job market.

Majorities in both Maryland and Virginia want their state and local governments to do "a lot" more to handle illegal immigration.

An estimated 12 million illegal immigrants live in the United States, including tens of thousands among an estimated half-million immigrants in the Washington area. And in both states, about six in 10 residents said "many" new immigrants, those arriving in the past 10 years or so, live in their areas.

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