Most voters in the reconfigured 2nd Congressional District held by Republican Rep. Peter King support immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship, according to a poll released Thursday.
The survey by America's Voice, an immigrant advocacy group in Washington, D.C., found 82 percent of likely voters in the district support "legislation that would significantly increase border security" while allowing immigrants to register for legal status and apply for citizenship.
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The findings put King, of Seaford, in a position to be a national leader on immigration policy, advocates said. They're hoping he will push his party on the issue as he did when he fought efforts to block Sandy aid.
"Immigration is right in the mix with exactly the kinds of populations that the Republican Party needs to repair their image with: women, Latino voters, independents," said Patty Kupfer, managing director of America's Voice.
The poll, conducted by Colorado-based Magellan Strategies on Nov. 13 and 14, surveyed 673 likely voters in the South Shore district that stretches from Seaford to Bayport.
King's was one of 17 "Republican swing districts" in six states that America's Voice identified to conduct polls. The results in the 2nd District were the highest in favor of immigration reform among the districts polled, including Rep. Chris Gibson's 19th District in the Hudson Valley and Catskills.
King, who had said he opposed any amnesty program for immigrants in the United States illegally, has shifted to say he would back a bill offering legal status and citizenship if it includes border security and enforcement measures.
He said Tuesday he is waiting for the right time to put his name on a bill. Reform efforts stalled in the House of Representatives after the Senate passed its bill in June, but advocates said they hope the effort would be revived next year.
Sponsoring the bill now "would serve no purpose," he said. "It would be counterproductive and would almost take me out of the bargaining."
King said he is "surprised" that support for a comprehensive bill is as high as the poll indicates, but agreed "there is a growing consensus that something has to be done."
His district became a focus of immigrant advocates after redistricting last year made his constituency more diverse. He went from a district with a largely white population to one that includes more black and Hispanic communities in Bay Shore, Brentwood, Central Islip and Wyandanch.
A bill with a citizenship path "should be a no-brainer from the perspective of Long Islanders" because of changing demographics and growing support, said Daniel Altschuler, coordinator of the Long Island Civic Engagement Table, a Brentwood group backing reform.
Proponents of increased enforcement said voters would also accept a plan that more strictly penalizes illegal immigration. "A convincing case could be made to voters in general, even Hispanics, that as long as we have mass immigration to the United States, that is going to affect you directly," said Ira Mehlman, spokesman of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a group in Washington, D.C., that favors enforcement.
It's unclear how much political traction the issue has in the district. In King's district, 62 percent of those polled said the failure to pass a reform bill would not keep them from voting for a Republican.
"For me, it's not high on the priority list," Joan Donnison, president of the Bay Village Civic Association and a resident of King's district, said of immigration reform. "I hate to see more people falling in between the cracks, but there has to be some coordinated way" to reach a compromise.