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Most Californians Oppose Deportation of Illegal Immigrants

Californians seem to be growing more accepting of immigrants, according to a Los Angeles Times/USC poll released this weekend. Among likely voters, 59 percent said illegal immigrants who have lived and worked in the country for at least two years should be allowed to stay and avoid deportation. Many reported generally favorable opinions of immigrants, with 48 percent of likely voters saying immigrants were a benefit to the state.

The larger pro-immigrant sentiment in California seems to align with a growing Latino population. In 1990, when former Gov. Pete Wilson (R) was first elected, Latinos made up almost 26 percent of the population in California. Wilson become a fervent supporter of Proposition 187 to deny state services to illegal immigrants, and is credited with derailing Latino support for Republican candidates for years. As of 2008, Latinos made up 37 percent of the population, meaning Californians are more likely to be or know Latinos.

For California politicians, these changes mean harsh anti-immigration stances may no longer be as successful. “I cannot win without the Latino vote,” Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman said earlier this month.

Whitman shifted to noticeably softer statements on immigration after she won the Republican primary. Her campaign stepped up its outreach to Latino voters and ran ads and billboards in Spanish claiming she did not support Proposition 187 — interesting, because Wilson serves as her campaign chairman — or Arizona’s SB 1070 immigration law.

Carly Fiorina, the Republican challenging Sen. Barbara Boxer, earned support from a National Organization for Marriage-sponsored Latino group that is running Spanish ads on her behalf.

So far, these efforts have not worked: Whitman and Fiorina both trail their opponents by large margins among Latino voters.

But as the recent LA Times/USC poll indicates, these candidates also face a general population that may be less interested in candidates with hardline stances on immigration. While support for illegal immigrants staying in the country was stronger among Latinos — 76 percent said illegal immigrants should not be deported — 56 percent of white voters also said illegal immigrants should be given paths to stay in the country rather than face deportation.

This seems to signal support for comprehensive immigration reform that would create additional options for legal status for some of the 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country. But so far, neither Republican candidate is supportive of measures that would help undocumented immigrants avoid deportation. Whitman said last year she supports comprehensive immigration reform, but has since called legalization “amnesty” and said the government must first focus on securing the border. Fiorina, too, refers to paths to citizenship as “amnesty” for illegal immigrants and argues for a border-first strategy.

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