Home International 1 in 3 Americans would deny illegal immigrants social services

1 in 3 Americans would deny illegal immigrants social services

By Arun Kumar, IANS

Washington : One-third of Americans want to deny the country’s estimated over 12 million illegal immigrants, including some 300,000 Indians, social services like public schooling and emergency room healthcare, a new poll has found.

Still a strong bipartisan majority — 60 percent-favours allowing illegal immigrants, who have not committed crimes to become citizens if they pay fines, learn English and meet other requirements, the Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll noted.

Those crosscurrents create treacherous political waters for the major presidential candidates, many of whom have tended to avoid spotlighting the issue, the Los Angeles Times said Wednesday.

But all have been forced to address the issue under repeated questioning at campaign events and candidate forums, it said noting that in a radio debate among Democrats, most said ‘no’ when asked if citizens should turn in someone they know to be an illegal immigrant.

In other settings, however, several have been talking a tough line on issues such as denying driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants.

Respondents were divided about what the best solution is to the problem, but a strong majority expressed support for a proposal discussed in Congress- part of a package backed by President George Bush-that would create a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants already in the United States.

The Bush plan, under which illegal immigrants could become citizens if they have no criminal record, register in the US, pay a fine, learn English and meet other requirements, was supported by 64 percent of the Democrats and 62 percent of Republicans.

However, that plan died in US Congress with critics calling for tighter border security before considering more liberalised treatment of illegal immigrants.

The poll suggests that neither party heads into the 2008 election with a decisive advantage on the issue, with Democrats having lost an edge they once enjoyed, the Times said.

Those surveyed were evenly split on which of the two major parties would do a better job handling immigration: 30 percent chose Democrats, 31 percent chose Republicans. By contrast, in a poll in June 2006 showed 34 percent preferred Democrats and 23 percent preferred Republicans.

The poll indicates that while most of those surveyed view illegal immigration as a key concern, it is not the most important issue on their minds.

Asked what issue is a top priority for presidential candidates, 15 percent said illegal immigration-the fifth-most mentioned topic behind the Iraq war, the economy, protecting the country from terrorist attacks and healthcare.

Asked how much of a problem illegal immigration is, 81 percent of respondents said they considered it important, including 27 percent who said it was one of the country’s most pressing problems.

The poll also makes clear that respondents make a distinction between legal and illegal immigrants: Asked if illegal immigrants had made a positive or negative contribution to their community, 36 percent said negative, while 21 percent said positive and 29 percent said the impact was not discernible.

When the same question was asked about legal immigrants, only 12 percent said their impact was negative, compared with 46 percent who said positive and 31 percent who said no discernible impact.

When those who said immigrants whether legal or illegal had a negative impact were asked how, the reasons most often cited were the loss of American jobs (35 percent), increased crime (30 percent) and increased cost of social services (19 percent).

About 46 percent of respondents said that immigrants should be able to get emergency medical treatment, and 40 percent said they should have access to public schools.

But only 22 percent of those surveyed said that illegal immigrants should be able to get limited driver’s licenses-a question that has put the Democratic presidential candidates on the spot recently.

The finding underscores the political climate that caused many leading Democrats to oppose licenses for illegal immigrants proposed by New York’s Democratic Governor Eliot Spitzer who eventually backed down.