Most Long Island voters support a broad federal immigration reform plan to strengthen enforcement while granting legal status to millions of immigrants, according to a new poll.
Eight of 10 Long Islanders surveyed said they "somewhat" or "strongly" favor a bill, which moved to full Senate debate Tuesday, described by poll-takers as a four-pronged plan to strengthen border security; require employers to verify workers' legal statuses and give "undocumented immigrants" a path to earned citizenship while increasing job visas.
The survey of 755 registered voters in Nassau and Suffolk counties, to be released Wednesday, was commissioned by a coalition of immigrant and labor advocacy groups that support the bipartisan Senate plan. It was conducted between May 28 and June 2 by Colorado-based polling firm Harstad Strategic Research.
"Across all of Long Island, irrespective of demographics or congressional districts, there is just tremendous support for a fair and balanced approach to fixing the immigration system," said Daniel Altschuler, of the Long Island Civic Engagement Table, a Brentwood alliance of advocacy groups. Alliance organizations were among those that commissioned the study. The poll results show the Senate bill "is one of these infrequent marriages between good policy and good politics," Altschuler said.
Those who want stronger immigration law enforcement and additional visa restrictions are skeptical.
"I don't believe it for one second," said Barrett Psareas, vice president of the Nassau County Civic Association. "I don't see the people overwhelmingly wanting it," he said.
Steven Camarota, research director with the pro-enforcement Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C., said the way questions are worded affects survey results.
"How about you ask them this question? 'Would you favor granting legal status to illegal immigrants immediately with a promise that the law will be enforced later on?' because that's essentially what the bill does," Camarota said.
The poll showed that 78 percent of voters surveyed are evenly split on whether immigrants here illegally make Long Island "a worse place to live" or make "no difference," as opposed to 11 percent who say they make the region better.
Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton), who supports the Senate approach, said the poll results may reflect a change of tone in the debate. "The passion associated with this issue has ebbed considerably," he said.
Besides the "growing acceptance" of immigrants' contributions, Bishop said, "people feel that this is a problem that has festered for far too long."
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) also said immigration doesn't seem to be a top issue on his constituents' minds. His office gets about 10 phone calls a week about immigration and hundreds of postcards every few months. The calls favor enforcement, while the postcards back legalization.
He said he would support a reform plan that included solid enforcement. "To me, border security is the main issue," King said.
Carlos Reyes, a Salvadoran immigrant who volunteers for the Make the Road New York advocacy group, found the poll results encouraging.
The Senate bill "would give an opportunity to millions of people in the shadows who want to contribute and become better citizens," said Reyes, 35, of Central Islip.