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More have immigrant friends, favor guest-worker plan

Source: Scripps Howard News Service
Date: November 02, 2005

More Americans say they have a friend or acquaintance who is an immigrant and those who do are more likely to favor a guest-worker program for foreigners.

That's a finding of a poll of 1,005 U.S. residents by the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University.

The poll found that 75 percent of Americans have a friend or acquaintance who is foreign born, up from 61 percent just 10 years ago when Ohio University asked the same question.

Fifty-eight percent say immigrants live in their neighborhood, up from just 44 percent 10 years ago.

Immigration is an exploding political issue, with Congress expected early next year to debate steps to control our borders as well as what to do with the estimated 10 million to 11 million illegal aliens already in the United States.

The new Scripps poll suggests Americans may be sending a mixed message to their lawmakers.

Nearly half _ 45 percent _ want immigration decreased, and 34 percent want it kept level. Only 11 percent favor more immigration.

But those polled also said by a 50-40 margin that they favor a guest-worker program for foreigners who have jobs here.

Fifty-four percent of people who know an immigrant favored a guest-worker plan. But 50 percent of those who said they don't know an immigrant opposed such a plan.

For one of the lawmakers struggling to find a consensus on immigration reform, the message was not surprising.

"Some see it as an economic issue. Some see it as a humanitarian issue and some see it as a national security issue. That's what makes it so complex," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

Cornyn is sponsoring legislation that would permit guest workers but only if they periodically return to their country of origin.

Richard Vedder, an economic historian at Ohio University, said the poll reflects the ambivalence Americans have always had about immigration.

Benjamin Franklin complained about the Germans overrunning Pennsylvania in "droves." In the early 1880s, as New Yorkers were raising money for the base for France's gift of the Statue of Liberty, Congress passed a quota on Chinese immigrants of 105 a year.

"Some people say, 'I don't want immigrants who are going to come and stay and be a part of our country. I am willing to have them come and do some of our dirty work,' " said Vedder.

A spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which opposes guest-worker legislation, suggested the poll results would have been different had respondents been asked if they favored "amnesty" for illegal immigrants.

"The largest share would prefer to see immigration decrease and a very large majority would oppose any increase," said Jack Martin, special-projects director for the group.

But a spokesman for the National Immigration Forum, which supports guest-worker legislation, said the poll shows that Americans recognize the role illegal immigrants are playing in the economy and want government to be more effective in controlling the flow.

"They see it every day. They're here. They're coming to work. I think what the American people are upset about, quite frankly, is the illegality more than the immigration," said Frank Sharry, executive director of the forum.

The survey was conducted by telephone from Oct. 9-23 at the Scripps Center in a project sponsored by Scripps Howard News Service and the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University. The survey has a 4 percent margin of error.