WASHINGTON – Mexican President Vincente Fox on Wednesday pressed the White House to reach an agreement before the end of the year on the question of providing amnesty for illegal Mexican immigrants living and working in the United States.
Supporters of amnesty for the more than 3 million Mexicans living in the United States say such a move would help improve ties with Mexico, extend workforce protections and benefits to Mexicans working in the United States, and relieve stress from an overburdened immigration system.
But a poll released this week from the Center of Immigration Studies/Zogby International may complicate matters for President Bush, who has said he supports some form of amnesty.
According to the poll, 55 percent of U.S. citizens — including 51 percent of Hispanics —believe it’s a "very bad idea" to grant amnesty. And 33 percent of Hispanics said they would be less likely to vote for Bush if he continued to pursue amnesty.
"The payoff (for supporting amnesty) is supposed to be greater support from Hispanics, but there seem to be no indication of that," said Steve Camarata, director of research for the Center of Immigration Studies.
Bush has made courting the Hispanic vote a cornerstone of his political agenda, and his support for amnesty was widely believed to be in keeping with that strategy.
The survey, taken of 1,020 likely voters nationwide between August 25 and August 29, also found that there is little difference between Republican and Democrats on this issue.
But some immigration and political experts believe that the way the poll questions were worded might have influenced the results.
"I think using 'amnesty' — that one word — it suggests that all illegals will be excused," said Michael Barone, author of the book, The New Americans, which traces immigration patterns during the 20th century.
Barone said that any new policy would have to consider the immigrant’s criminal record, working status or family situation before extending legal status. And he suggested that if the question were to equate amnesty with providing "legal status to people who are in fact working, upholding the law and behaving constructively," more of those polled may have answered in support of the amnesty idea.
Rep. Hilda Solis, D-Calif., who represents a district with a significant illegal immigrant population from Mexico and supports amnesty measures, said she was thrilled to hear President Fox talk so passionately about his hope for a new policy with the United States and she, too, believes the poll should have been worded differently.
"Amnesty" is a "derogatory word," she said. "What we’re trying to do is help those people who are helping us out — those who came here and established themselves. It’s all about how you word the question."
Barone concedes that point. "Those who have become U.S. citizens and legal residents may not be entirely sympathetic with those not following the rules," he added.
Camarata maintains "the questions were very neutral" and that the pollsters were careful not to use words like "alien," which they knew would have skewed results against amnesty.
"What we tried to do is go right down the middle," he said.
But Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., said none of these distinctions matter and he opposes amnesty on principle.
"Anyone who broke the law to get here is a lawbreaker and shouldn’t be here," he said. "Mexican-Americans and other legal Hispanic immigrants are hurt hardest by illegal immigration and they know it; that’s why they don’t support it," Rohrabacher said.
He said most Hispanics who arrive in the U.S. illegally "just want to help their families, work hard and not rob anyone — they’re wonderful people," but the U.S. is allowed to absorb a million legal immigrants annually, and that is all the system can take.
"And that is more than any other country combined takes in — we have nothing to be embarrassed about."