Poll in Georgia finds conditional support for immigration plan

More than half of Georgians would support a program giving illegal immigrants the right to live here legally, if they pay a fine and meet other requirements, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll shows.

Of the 801 Georgian adults surveyed by telephone this month, 54 percent said they would support such a program, while 40 percent said they would oppose it. The rest didn’t know or did not answer the survey question.

The results may surprise some readers since Georgia has taken a hard-line approach to illegal immigration in recent years. In 2011, for example, the state followed Arizona’s lead and enacted a stringent enforcement law to crack down on the problem. A 2010 poll commissioned by the Georgia Newspaper Partnership showed strong sentiment among Georgians for such a law.

But Georgians are not alone in their opinions on this hot-button issue this year, national polling shows. In April, an Associated Press-GfK national telephone poll of 1,004 adults found 63 percent of Americans favor “providing a legal way for illegal immigrants already in the United States to become U.S. citizens.”

The new poll surveyed a random sample of Georgians across the state from Sept. 12-17, including but not limited to registered voters.

Half of those who said they would support giving illegal immigrants legal status said that should be allowed only after border control has been improved. Forty-two percent said legal status should not be linked to border control efforts.

Gigi Gregory of East Point supports giving illegal immigrants a route to legal status. She pointed out many are working here.

“I just feel like the United States is profiting off of the labor, but we are not allowing people to become citizens the way we should be,” said Gregory, a retired public health educator. “I think there needs to be a plan to include everyone.”

Dean Mauzy, an aircraft mechanic from Douglas County, agreed some illegal immigrants contribute to the nation’s economy. But he strongly opposes letting them stay here legally.

“I don’t think that somebody who is breaking the law should be allowed to stay here just simply because they are here already,” he said.

“You see the problems with our school systems and everything else where we have to come up with ways to educate kids who don’t speak English. Their parents don’t speak English. … Health care — somebody has to pay for that. So that is more money out of our tax system.”

The poll comes as efforts to overhaul the immigration system remain stalled in Congress. Lawmakers in Washington are instead consumed with debates over the federal budget, spending limits and a chemical weapons attack in Syria.

In June, the Democratic-controlled Senate passed bipartisan legislation that would bolster border security and create a 13-year route to citizenship for immigrants living illegally in the U.S. The Republican-controlled House, however, has refused to take up the Senate bill, dismissing it as “amnesty” legislation. House Republican leaders, however, are considering offering legal status to immigrants who were illegally brought to the U.S. as children.

Georgia was home to an estimated 425,000 illegal immigrants in 2010, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Over the past 12 months, 18,497 have applied for a two-year reprieve from deportation under a controversial Obama administration program, federal records show.

The newspaper’s poll also revealed 66 percent of nonwhites support letting illegal immigrants live here legally, while 47 percent of whites do.

There is also a sizable split between Democrats and Republicans in Georgia. Seventy percent of Democrats support granting legal status to illegal immigrants, while 59 percent of Republicans oppose it.

Ulysses Borras, a Democrat from Gwinnett County, said he strongly supports granting illegal immigrants a path to legal status, if they pay a fine and meet other requirements. He doesn’t want to see the United States forced into an economic disadvantage against other nations.

“If we don’t take them, somebody else will take them,” said Borras, a former package courier. “Another nation like China or Russia or a nation like India could take advantage of it.”

Jessica Easterling, a Republican from Houston County, strongly objected to letting illegal immigrants live here legally.

“I’m not opposed to the immigrants at all — in any way, shape or form,” said Easterling, a homemaker and former registered nurse, “but I am opposed to the way they are trying to bring them in and give them everything.

“We are already broke as a country and can’t take care of what we have. And they are trying to bring them in and give them citizenship. … Everything is entitlement. We are going to give you this, this and this, and we don’t have it to give.”

Eunice Law, a retired registered nurse who lives in Dodge County, was among many Georgians who said they would support granting legal status to illegal immigrants but only after border security is boosted.

“If they have been here a long time and they pay their taxes and all, then they could stay,” she said.

Lexie Huff, a retired nursing assistant from Fannin County, also wants to see border security improved.

“Anybody who comes to the United States should go through the legal channels,” she said, “and make it right before they come across any border.”

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