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Legalize longtime immigrants, most tell poll

Majority also favors proposal to deport more-recent arrivals

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Protesters against the deportation of immigrants with green cards rally Monday outside the Capitol.

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(CNN) -- More than three-quarters of Americans favor allowing illegal immigrants who have spent many years in the United States to apply for citizenship, according to a poll conducted for CNN by Opinion Research Corp.

In the poll, released Tuesday, 77 percent of those responding favored allowing illegal immigrants who have been in United States for more than five years to stay and apply for citizenship if they have a job, and pay a fine and back taxes. Twenty percent said they opposed such a measure.

A majority opposed a proposal to allow iIlegal immigrants who have been in the United States for two to five years to stay on a temporary basis, without a chance to apply for U.S. citizenship. Fifty-four percent opposed that measure, and 40 percent favored it.

A proposal to deport illegal immigrants in the United States for less than two years was favored by 64 percent and opposed by 31 percent.

For the poll, 1,012 adult Americans were interviewed by telephone between Friday and Sunday; it has a sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

A proposal being considered by the Senate would treat illegal immigrants differently based on the amount of time they have lived in the United States.

Earlier this month, senators left for a two-week recess after failing to agree on legislation to increase border security, create a guest-worker program and develop a legalization process.

Proponents of the latter called the system "earned citizenship," while opponents decried it as "amnesty."

With lawmakers returning to work Monday, President Bush reiterated his support for immigration legislation that would include a temporary guest-worker program. (Full story)

Bush called the proposal that bogged down in the Senate an "important compromise" and blamed the failure to pass it on "needless politics." That proposal was based on legislation proposed by Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, and Sen. Edward Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat.

Minority Leader Harry Reid said Monday, "The Senate can move forward on immigration if President Bush and the majority leader will stand up to those Republicans who are filibustering."

A Republican leadership aide said last week that Majority Leader Bill Frist will bring immigration legislation back to the Senate floor by Memorial Day. (Full story)

The issue presents a delicate balancing act for Bush. His guest-worker program has support in the business community, and he has courted Latino support. But he also must deal with an outspoken segment of his conservative base demanding tougher restrictions on illegal immigration.

Republicans have been divided over the worker program and the legalization process.

Bush said Monday that the best way to enforce border security "besides making sure it's modern and we've got manpower and equipment down there ... is to come up with a rational plan that recognizes people coming here to work, and lets them do so on a temporary basis."

The poll found opinions divided on a worker program that would allow people from other countries to stay in the United States for several months but require them to leave when that time was up, without a chance to apply for citizenship. That was favored by 47 percent and opposed by 45 percent.

Any immigration legislation the Senate passes would have to be reconciled with a plan passed by the House in December. The House version includes neither a guest-worker program nor a legalization process.

The House bill, which helped spark weeks of protests nationwide by supporters of illegal immigrants, included provisions to build 700 miles of fence along the border with Mexico and to make entering the country illegally a felony.

In the poll, Americans were split evenly over the fence proposal, with 47 percent favoring the idea and the same percentage opposing it.

A majority -- 56 percent -- opposed making illegal immigration a felony, while 39 percent favored it.

After Congress started its recess, the top Republicans in both the House and Senate indicated they would not support the felony provision. (Full story)

In the poll, 68 percent of those responding said they favored increasing penalties for employers who hire illegal immigrants, while 27 percent were opposed.

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