WASHINGTON -- Americans want the nations broken immigration system fixed, but theyre torn over how to do it.
A new McClatchy-Marist poll found the public split among familiar lines. Republicans want changes to be mostly about protecting the borders, while Democrats favor a path to citizenship for most of the undocumented immigrants now in the country.
The poll also sampled opinion about how lawmakers should deal with two other polarizing topics: Gay marriage and voting rights, and found similar partisan divides over how to proceed.
Congress is mired in talks over how to mend the immigration system. The Democratic-run Senate last month passed bipartisan legislation that would create a 13-year path to citizenship for most of the nations estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants, but the Republican-run House of Representatives refuses to even debate it.
People are eager to see action on immigration reform, said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion at Marist College in New York, which conducted the poll. This is a high priority. But gridlock sets in because people are divided about what path it should take.
The House plans to consider a series of bills that stress border security, though sentiment is building for some measure that allows children of undocumented immigrants a means of gaining citizenship.
Theres broad support for doing something for children who were brought here, said Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho, a leading Republican voice on immigration issues. But he also warned, We first have to have border security.
The partisan schism mirrors the national rift. While slightly more than half see immigration policy as an immediate priority, and another third see it as a priority over the next few years, people are split over remedies. Nearly half of registered voters want changes to be mostly about stronger border protection, while 43 percent want to concentrate on a path to citizenship.
Republicans prefer border security first by a 3-to-1 margin; Democrats want the citizenship policy first, by 2-1.
The poll is also a vivid reminder of the political stakes. Republicans have given immigration urgency as they struggle to woo Latino voters. The partys 2012 presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, got an estimated 27 percent of the Hispanic vote last year, down from the 44 percent President George W. Bush got in 2004.
Latinos are watching the debate closely, and nearly two-thirds of Hispanic adults want a path to citizenship as a priority. Whites rank border security first, by a 53-to-38 percent margin.
The political world is also watching voting rights issues. Last month, the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the 1965 law credited with making it easier for millions of black voters to go to the polls.
Some Republicans have been reluctant to enact new safeguards, but the Obama administration is moving aggressively to fight the ruling. The Justice Department said Thursday it would bring lawsuits to either block states from imposing certain restrictions or require them to get approval before changing election laws.
The poll shows a majority of voters think voting rights remains a problem and should be addressed by Congress, but sentiment breaks along party and racial lines. More than three-fourths of Democrats want action, compared with about a third of Republicans. Fifty-eight percent of Republicans think voting rights issues are largely a thing of the past.