Florida voters, particularly in immigrant-rich pockets of South and Central Florida, overwhelmingly say they support comprehensive immigration reform that would give people living in the state illegally a pathway to citizenship, according to a new Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9 poll.
Across the state, 66 percent of voters support immigration reform that allows people living in the U.S. without legal status to stay and apply for citizenship. Another 28 percent oppose it, and 6 percent are undecided.
"Most voters here support some sort of way to solve the problem," said Brad Coker of Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, the nonpartisan, Jacksonville-based company that conducted the poll for the Florida media organizations.
Florida voters also favor President Barack Obama's recent move to protect some younger illegal immigrants — the so-called DREAM Act kids — from being deported. They back the plan 53 to 42 percent, with 5 percent of potential voters undecided. In South Florida, that number jumps to 63 percent support, with just 34 percent opposing it.
Joe Marcos, 50, an electrical contractor from Miami, says the administration should toughen the border against illegal immigration and supports deporting immigrants who have committed crimes.
But Marcos, a longtime Republican voter who is originally from Cuba, opposes deporting young people who were brought into the country illegally by their parents. They deserve a chance to stay, he said in a follow-up interview to the poll.
"If a kid is brought here by his parents, I just don’t think it’s right to deport them," Marcos said. “It’s just not right. We need laws to help those kids and their parents to stay in the country."
Albert Sensley, 79, a retired Army intelligence officer from North Port who has lived in Florida since 1994, said he supports strong borders. But Sensley, an independent voter, says he likes the president's recent move to allow young people to stay. Shaping his views: His wife's family is from Honduras.
"There’s no reason to punish people who are already here," Sensley said. "A lot of them were born
here. If they were fortunate enough to get in this country, they're here. Some of the best Americans we have are people who come over to this country."
Coker said that support for the president's action, while broad, may be muted by the way Obama did it. The administration’s directive bypassed Congress, which has failed to muster the votes to pass the DREAM Act. It allows young illegal immigrants who were raised in the United States to remain for two years under a deferred deportation. Unlike the proposed DREAM Act supported by Democrats, the administrative action does not provide a path to citizenship for the young people. They can work and go to school, however.
Other national polls have also shown wide support for allowing young people to stay in the U.S. — only underscoring how Obama has taken the lead over Republicans on an issue that, while ranking lower in importance than the economy to Latino voters, is seen as a measure of respect for the wider Hispanic community.
Both Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney are actively seeking Hispanic voters, and although Obama leads Romney among those voters in most polls, he must shore up his support among Latino voters to win in November. Romney doesn’t need to outright win over Hispanic voters, but he does need to peel away enough of the critical voting bloc to compete in the swing states of Florida, Nevada and Colorado.