Poll: Voters in U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart’s district want immigration reform now — not later

More than 6 in 10 voters in Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart’s district say he needs to be more aggressive pushing immigration reform this year, according to a new poll showing that a higher number of them favor a comprehensive bill that he hasn’t yet backed.

The 605-voter survey, conducted by Public Policy Polling for the liberal-leaning Florida New Majority, is a sign of the troubles Diaz-Balart has faced while trying to get a bipartisan bill passed in the U.S. House, where GOP leaders have kept the issue from a vote.

For months, the Miami representative and others have met in secret and tried to hammer out a bill that a majority of the Republican House caucus would back.

But with no bill yet as the year ends, the meetings have started to haunt Diaz-Balart because advocates and voters in District 25 want to see more results.

“This is what happens when you’re legislating and not grandstanding,” said Diaz-Balart, who represents a majority Hispanic House seat that runs from Miami-Dade through Broward, Collier and Hendry counties.

Diaz-Balart acknowledges it’s “crunch time,” but he’s not ready to lay out a bill. And so he expects the criticism to follow.

Last week, Diaz-Balart pointed out that time has run out in the House this year and that members only have until mid spring or so to pass comprehensive immigration reform before the election-year political climate stymies nearly every issue.

When that comment was polled by PPP, 63 percent of people in his district agreed with the statement that he “he should take a more aggressive leadership role in trying to get it passed as soon as possible.”

Only 31 percent agreed that “he should just accept that immigration reform is not going to pass this year,” the poll said.

Diaz-Balart’s comments about the death of reform this year led 39 percent to view him less favorably, while 24 percent viewed him more favorably and 32 percent said it made no difference.

Diaz-Balart is still viewed more favorably overall by 43 percent of his voters, compared with 31 percent who held a more-negative view.

An October PPP poll, conducted just after the GOP-instigated government shutdown, indicated Diaz-Balart could face a tough reelection because he was down three percentage points to an anonymous, generic Democratic challenger.

PPP’s pollster, Dustin Ingalls, said Diaz-Balart’s numbers have probably improved since. But immigration is an important issue to all of his constituents, and they’re paying attention.

“He’s one of the members Democrats could be targeting. He has to watch himself,” Ingalls said.

“He obviously supports doing something. But what advocates are frustrated about is that he hasn’t done enough to get the ball rolling.”

Packed with voters of Cuban, Colombian, Venezuelan and Mexican descent, Diaz-Balart’s district is one of the nation’s few Republican-held seats with a Hispanic majority — 68 percent — where GOP voters are about as inclined to back comprehensive immigration reform as Democrats.

But in other parts of Florida and the nation, Republican seats are heavily non-Hispanic whites and far less-inclined to support immigration laws that could lead to what critics say is “amnesty” for those illegally in this country.

A larger number of voters in Diaz-Balart’s district — 77 percent — agreed with tenets of a bipartisan immigration bill that passed the Senate earlier this year and called for more border security spending, on employers who hire illegal immigrants and a chance for undocumented immigrants to become citizens.

And 68 percent said they’d also support the language requiring undocumented immigrants to pay a penalty and taxes, learn English and wait about 13 years before they become eligible for citizenship.

House Republican leaders won’t schedule the bill, passed with Sen. Marco Rubio’s help, for a vote.

Rubio was excoriated by the far right for his role in passing the bipartisan bill — in contrast to Diaz-Balart who’s feeling more heat from the center and left.

Diaz-Balart indicated he supported many of the concepts of the Senate bill, but he said he won’t support it because doing so would weaken his standing with Republicans with whom he’s trying to curry favor for a comprehensive House package.

Diaz-Balart’s Democratic colleague from Miami, Joe Garcia, has picked up the Senate bill, however, and started peeling off support of a few Republicans and a large swath of the Democratic caucus.

Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen signed on quickly.

Subhash Kateel, a spokesman for 1Miami, a union-affiliated group that works with Florida New Majority, said advocates thanked Ros-Lehtinen for her support of Garcia’s bill.

“We’d like to do the same with Diaz-Balart,” Kateel said. “We want to see a bill. It’s been puzzling he hasn’t been more aggressive.”

But Diaz-Balart said his reason is simple for not proposing anything yet: “I want to get something done. This is our shot at doing it.”