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Immigration Enforcement: You Need To Mean It

The Senate voted yesterday to keep the guest-worker provisions in the Kennedy-Kyl immigration bill. I think everyone who wants to pass something like this legislation should pay close attention to this analysis by pollster Scott Rasmussen. Key paragraphs:

Advocates of "comprehensive" reform have taken to arguing that those who want an enforcement-only policy must explain how they would deal with the 12 million illegal aliens already living in the country. The public reaction to that question appears to be "Why?" Only 29% of voters say it is Very Important for "the government to legalize the status of illegal aliens already in the United States." . . .

Still, 65% of voters would be willing to support a compromise including a "very long path to citizenship" provided that "the proposal required the aliens to pay fines and learn English" and that the compromise "would truly reduce the number of illegal aliens entering the country." The proposal, specifically described as a compromise, was said to include "strict employer penalties for hiring illegal aliens, building a barrier along the Mexican border and other steps to significantly reduce the number of illegal aliens entering the United States."

The willingness of voters to accept compromise and allow a path to citizenship suggests both pragmatism and a strong desire to do what it takes to reduce the ongoing flow of illegal immigration. The challenge for proponents of the legislation is to convince voters that they are serious about enforcement and that the proposal will truly work.

You can frame questions on immigration to get the kind of results you want. But I think Scott has hit the problem advocates of Kennedy-Kyl have squarely on the head. Just saying enforcement is not enough. You have to convince people that you really mean it.

By Michael Barone