Strong support emerges for US illegals Bill


US:A strong majority of Americans, including two out of three Republicans, favour allowing most illegal immigrants to remain in the country and eventually apply for citizenship, according to a poll published yesterday.

Immigrants' rights groups welcomed the Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll as Democrats and Republicans in the Senate discussed how to revive an immigration reform bill that collapsed last week.

"I'm more optimistic now than I've been at any time in the last couple of weeks. I fully anticipate that a bill will pass in the Senate before the 4th of July recess," Ciaran Staunton, vice-chairman of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform (ILIR) told The Irish Times.

Only 23 per cent of adults surveyed in the poll opposed allowing undocumented immigrants to become legal, reinforcing the view that the Bill's opponents represent a vocal and well-organised minority, while most Americans are more welcoming toward illegal immigrants.

The poll found that offering illegal immigrants a chance to embark on a path to citizenship - a proposal condemned as "amnesty" by the Bill's opponents - was backed by 63 per cent of those surveyed, including 58 per cent of those who identified themselves as conservatives and 65 per cent of Republicans.

The poll came as the White House said it would be open to changes to a "grand bargain" agreed by a bipartisan group of senators who have argued that any alteration to the compromise could cause it to unravel.

"You may have a carefully crafted compromise, but on the other hand, you have members of both parties who want to have their say and have their input. Clearly, there will be some attempts to put together amendments that will be "killer amendments", but so far none have passed, White House spokesman Tony Snow said.

Some Republican opponents of the bill have told President George Bush that they would consider changing their position in return for a spending bill to improve border security and workplace enforcement. Another idea under discussion is a proposal to toughen penalties for those who overstay their visas or enter the US illegally.

"If you had mandatory jail time, I think it would create a deterrent," said Lindsay Graham, one of the Republican backers of the Immigration Reform Bill.

Senate majority leader Harry Reid said yesterday he would not bring the Bill back up for debate unless the Republicans could deliver 25 votes in favour of it.

Mr Bush sought during a rare visit to Capitol Hill this week to persuade Republicans to support the Bill but his intervention appeared to have little effect.

"I don't think the president and his top advisers understand the fundamental flaws in the Bill. They just don't," said Jeff Sessions, one of the Bill's leading opponents.