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Poll: High stakes in immigration debate

Eighty-eight percent say issue will be important in November vote

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(CNN) -- Illegal immigration is an important topic to a large majority of Americans, though only about one in seven said it will be the only issue that matters in November's elections, according to a CNN poll conducted by Opinion Research Corporation.

The poll, released Monday, underscores the high political stakes in the congressional debate on the issue.

On Monday, the Senate entered the second week of discussion on the issue, with Majority Leader Bill Frist predicting that legislation will pass this week.

What that legislation might look like remains unclear. (View poll results)

The Senate Judiciary Committee passed a bill last week that would include a temporary guest-worker program and a means for undocumented immigrants to eventually work toward citizenship. President Bush supports the first measure but opposes the latter. (Read the full poll results -- PDF)

In December, the House passed a bill focused on security and enforcement that includes neither a guest worker program nor a legalization process.

When several of the House legislation's proposals were spelled out for poll respondents, 47 percent said they favored the bill and 44 percent opposed it.

The poll, conducted through telephone interviews with 1,010 adult Americans from Friday through Sunday, had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points for most questions.

The House bill would build fences along 700 miles of the border with Mexico, increase criminal penalties for illegal immigrants caught inside the United States, make it illegal for organizations such as churches or charities to provide food or medical care to illegal immigrants, and increase penalties for employers who hire illegal immigrants.

Although the debate in Congress has not broken down clearly along party lines, that poll question did show a divide between Democrat and Republican respondents.

Among Republicans, 54 percent favored the House bill and 37 percent opposed it, and the numbers for independents were almost identical. But among Democrats, 35 percent favored the bill and 59 percent opposed it. That question alone had a margin of error of plus or minus 6 percentage points.

Eighty-eight percent of those responding said illegal immigration will be at least somewhat important to them when they vote in November.

Of those, 14 percent said it is the only issue that will matter to them, while 43 percent said it is very important and 31 percent somewhat important. Another 9 percent said it is not important at all.

Seventy percent said they were sympathetic toward illegal immigrants and their families: 24 percent of them very sympathetic and 46 percent somewhat so. Twelve percent said they felt somewhat unsympathetic toward illegal immigrants, and 14 percent very much so.

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