Poll: Legal Immigrants Don't Back Crackdown

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A first-ever poll of legal immigrants in the United States finds little support for a crackdown on illegal immigrants. Sergio Bendixen tells Scott Simon about his poll, sponsored by an association of ethnic news organizations.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Compromise may be in the offing between competing House and Senate bills to change current U.S. immigration law. House Speaker Dennis Hastert has said there may be some way to satisfy the House, which favors tougher security along the U.S. border with Mexico, and the Senate, which favors a Guest Worker program that could allow millions of currently undocumented workers the opportunity to remain in the United States. But the debate over changes to federal immigration law involves all Americans, whether native-born or naturalized.

Sergio Bendixen is a pollster who's conducted one of the first polls of legal immigrants in the United States. New American Media, an association of ethnic news organizations, commissioned the poll. Sergio Bendixen joins us on the phone from Belorazante(ph), Brazil. Mr. Bendixen, thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. SERGIO BENDIXEN (Pollster, New American Media): Hello, Mr. Simon.

SIMON: How would you characterize the range of attitudes of the 26 million legal immigrants in the U.S. towards those who've entered the country illegally?

Mr. BENDIXEN: The consensus point of view, not only from Latin American immigrants, but also from those that came here legally from Asia, Europe and the Middle East, is basically positive. They feel that the undocumented, the illegals, do jobs that nobody else wants to do in America. So overall, the legal immigrants basically have very little animosity for the undocumented.

SIMON: Mr. Bendixen, do you see any political implications in the information you have?

Mr. BENDIXEN: I think there are very strong political implications, because the people supporting these draconian measures in immigration have brought the point of view of legal immigrants into the debate. And I think therefore the result of this poll, which from my reading of it says that they are wrong about the way they have been characterizing it, should weigh heavily on those that were considering that point of view.

SIMON: Your polling was completed before some of the massive demonstrations that we've seen in Los Angeles, Chicago...

Mr. BENDIXEN: Correct.

SIMON: ...Phoenix, and other places, and also before the Senate Judiciary Committee reported out a bill with the Guest Worker provision. If legislation is crafted that is not as harsh as the House bill and includes some of the Senate provisions on guest workers, is it possible that the bitterness of this debate might be set aside in the minds of many?

Mr. BENDIXEN: I believe so. I believe so. I think that the demonstrations that we have witnessed over the last couple of weeks have captured the anger of immigrants at these draconian measures approved by the House that makes the undocumented felons, and that asks for them to be deported. But I don't think legal immigrants, I don't think Hispanics, I don't think Asians have a very dogmatic point of view on immigration. In other words, I don't think they support one specific bill over the other. And if the Congress comes up with a reasonable compromise and a reasonable approach to immigration policy, and it's careful about the rhetoric it utilizes, I think that most people in this country, including legal immigrants and minorities, will go along with it.

SIMON: Sergio Bendixen, who conducted one of the first polls of legal immigrants in the United States from every continent, sponsored by New American Media, thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. BENDIXEN: It's a pleasure.

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