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Pollster: Utahns want immigration solution, just not sure what it is

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 22 2011 12:03 a.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY —  When it comes to illegal immigration — one of the state's toughest, trickiest issues — Utahns seem to want a solution, but just aren't sure what it is.

"I don't know of an issue that's been more confusing for a long, long time," said pollster Dan Jones, who has been conducting surveys on the issue for years.

A trio of poll questions for the Deseret News and KSL that Dan Jones & Associates asked a sample of Utahns highlights the conundrum and underscores the challenges Utah lawmakers face as they try to craft new legislation.

• Asked if it's worth additional resources for local law enforcement to check the legal status of those they suspect could be illegal immigrants, 54 percent of those surveyed said, "yes."

• Seventy-one percent support creating a state-issued work permit for undocumented immigrants to allow them to stay here if they have a job and agree to a criminal background check.

• And 55 percent back the Utah Compact, a document supported by local business, government and religious leaders that calls it a federal, not a state issue, and recognizes immigrants' value to society.  

Jones said the numbers seem to indicate a desire for action, some kind of action.

"They would like the issue resolved, the sooner the better," Jones said. His interpretation of where Utahns are on the issue, based on the polls is that "they see good in each one of them."  

The poll of 496 Utahns was conducted February 8-10. It had margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percent.

Jones said just two years ago immigration was at No. 10 among issues Uthans most wanted state lawmakers and the governor to address. It's now No. 3, just behind jobs and education.

"It's come right to the top," Jones said.

Meantime, hearings at the State Capitol on a variety of immigration related issues ranging from enforcement, employment or college tuition for illegal immigrants have attracted large, diverse crowds.  A Latino Day celebration last week at the Capitol drew hundreds.

But what proposal will have a enough support to become law?

House leaders want to vote on each proposal separately, while the Senate wants a comprehensive law of the best elements of each bill. Jones' poll found 52 percent support the House approach.

Utah is not alone is wrestling with illegal immigration and demanding Congress also address it. An Arizona law, which sparked many of the immigrations bills before the 2011 Utah Legislature, has been largely struck down by a federal judge and is headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

But Utah leaders remain confident the best solutions will survive the legislative process.

"I think that we will come together," said House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, "and we will find solutions that are unique and specific to Utah's issues."

E-mail: jdaley@desnews.com

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