Firmly in the Republican camp is the estimated quarter of the American public that favors slamming all borders shut and deporting all unauthorized immigrants. "Poll after poll shows that this group is probably not open to persuasion," wrote Mr. Jacoby, who has written often on immigration issues in national publications. "But, what discussion of the issue can do is energize some of the other 75 percent of Americans, who, surveys show, are more pragmatic … and less intense in their beliefs."
Hispanic voters tend to be far more lenient toward immigration in general, but they are also divided among the specific issues. For example, while most (72 percent) Hispanics believe that illegal immigrants help the U.S. economy, 41 percent also said only undocumented immigrants who have been in the United States for more than five years should be permitted to stay, according to the Pew Hispanic survey.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) says that while the calls from his constituents run about 20-to-one for enforcing the borders and limiting immigration, the Hispanics in his San Diego-area district are generally on the side of more open immigration.
"However, they also express great concern about national security," he says. "The calls we get from my district from Hispanics are about 50-50 regarding illegal immigrants. The Hispanics who came here legally are generally against allowing so many undocumented workers into this country. They say, 'We came here legally, why can't they?' These are hard-working people who feel the others cheated by coming here illegally. Those who are for amnesty and opening the borders are often undocumented workers themselves, or they often have illegal immigrants, sometimes family members, living in their homes. There simply is not a consensus on many of these issues within the Hispanic community."
Surveys show that Hispanics closest to the immigrant experience are more likely to support the most generous legalization process. Among first-generation Latinos, 61 percent favor full amnesty, according to the Pew Hispanic poll. Among second-generation Hispanics that number drops to 51 percent, and among third-generation Hispanics the number supporting blanket legalization falls to 40 percent.
And while the immigration protests of last summer garnered a great deal of public attention, but their accompanying battle cry of "Today We March, Tomorrow We Vote" has yet to produce a hoped-for voter registration surge among Hispanics.
"I was anticipating a huge jump in registration," Jess Cervantes, whose California-based company analyzes Hispanic voter trends, told reporters. "I didn't see it."
Or as The Associated Press reported, "(New voter registration numbers among Hispanics) are well below 2004 and do not indicate the watershed awakening that advocates had envisioned."
Pro-immigration activists have always had a heavyweight ally, though. Many of America's largest corporations, most of which make substantial political contributions, are deeply concerned about immigration. "I don't think anyone involved would deny that many American corporations favor open immigration policies," says Representative Issa, who has worked on immigration reformfor more than a year. "What you have, in effect, are three distinct entities with three different agendas. You have Middle America, which has strong concerns about the numbers of illegal immigrants coming into this country and about terrorists crossing the borders; you have other voters, including recent immigrants, who want a more opendoor policy; and you have big business, which also favors increased immigration as a source for its workforce. It's not easy trying to please all these groups."
Democrats generally have an easier time of it because their more lenient stance pleases both the big corporations and many of their constituents – although a sizeable group of conservative Democrats remain vocal about closing the borders.
But bridging that divide is much harder in the GOP, which must accommodate both a majority of Republican voters who are very concerned about undocumented immigrants, and the desires of the party's traditional ally, big business. And the Hispanic community, growing as it is, must be reckoned with.
The immigration reform debate is likely to be revisited in January. Most "crystal-ball" analysts say a compromise between the House and Senate bills will have to be hammered out. Most likely, a mix of the two bills, with provisions for stricter border security, a work-visa program, and some type of pathway to citizenship, will be at its core. It is also likely that the felony aspect of the House bill will be dropped from the final bill because it is viewed as the most punitive aspect of that legislation.
Getting to that final compromise will not be easy, though, especially for Republicans, who must somehow bridge the wide gulf in ideology. For now, they can only hope that the strategic gamble they took in delaying action will not backfire at the ballot box.
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