Jobs A Factor In Immigration Debate

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If you're wondering why Arizona's new immigration law has drawn such strong support from Americans in other states, look no further than the nation's high rate of unemployment.

Joblessness is a dormant factor in the immigration debate. Nearly 8 million jobs have been shed from the start of the recession, and households that have suffered job losses or who fear future layoffs have a much harsher view of illegal immigration.

Though they acknowledge that illegal immigrants are working in jobs ordinary Americans do not want, job-sensitive Americans blame job losses on illegal immigration. Further, they think that the U.S. wage structure has taken a hit because of legal and illegal immigration.

We define job-sensitive as households in which at least one member is looking for work or is concerned that a member might be laid off, or both. The IBD/TIPP Poll of 910 adults taken April 30 to May 6 found that 45% of households meet the definition of job-sensitive; 54% do not.

Nearly a majority (48%) of the job-sensitive believe Americans have lost jobs or been laid off because of low-cost competition from illegal immigrant workers compared with only a third (34%) of non-job-sensitive Americans.

Also one-half (50%) of job-sensitive say American wages have gone down or been undercut because of both legal and illegal immigration, compared with only 31% of the non-job-sensitive.

This unfavorable feeling prevails despite the belief of nearly one-half of both job-sensitive (47%) and non-job-sensitive (49%) that illegal immigrants are working in jobs ordinary Americans do not want.

The Arizona law allows state and local law enforcement to scrutinize a person's citizenship after a "lawful contact" (arrest or other action). Overall, a majority of Americans (57%) support the law. But support for the law among the job-sensitive (62%) is significantly higher than among non-job sensitive (54%).

Seventeen states are following in the footsteps of Arizona and are considering tougher illegal immigration laws. They include Pennsylvania, Utah, Colorado, Maryland and Oklahoma. Fearful of alienating large Hispanic segments, border states such as New Mexico, Texas and California have been circumspect in their approach.

The job-sensitive also favor tougher measures dealing with illegal immigration than non-job sensitive:

A majority of job-sensitive (51%) favor building a fence to stem the tide of illegal immigrants. Fewer non-job-sensitive Americans (38%) back such action.

Fully 68% of the job-sensitive think the government should be more concerned with enforcing existing immigration laws than expanding the guest-worker program, as compared with 58% of non-job sensitive.

Three out of four (74%) job-sensitive believe that the U.S. should get control of the border before coming up with amnesty or guest-worker programs to accommodate illegal immigrants already here. For the non-job-sensitive, support is 67%.

Since the perception of illegal immigration and the approach to tackle it is different between job-sensitive and the others given the high unemployment, moving ahead with an immigration reform is likely to fuel intense debate in the country, which is still ailing from the intense health care debate.

Further, both of the major parties have different visions on immigration reform. As we have pointed out, job-sensitivity is not uniform across the parties. Democrats have the lowest share of job-sensitive households at 36% and independents have the highest at 57%. For Republicans, the share of job-sensitive households is 42%.

• Mayur is president of TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence, which directs the IBD/TIPP Poll that was the most accurate in the last two presidential elections

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