By ERICA WERNER and DENNIS JUNIUS

WASHINGTON (AP) — More than 6 in 10 Americans now favor allowing illegal immigrants to eventually become U.S. citizens, a major increase in support driven by a turnaround in Republicans’ opinions after the 2012 elections.

The finding, in a new Associated Press-GfK poll, comes as the Republican Party seeks to increase its meager support among Latino voters, who turned out in large numbers to help-re-elect President Barack Obama in November.

Emboldened by the overwhelming Hispanic backing and by shifting attitudes on immigration, Obama has made overhauling laws about who can legally live in the U.S. a centerpiece of his second-term agenda. In the coming weeks, he’s expected to aggressively push for ways to create an eventual pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants already in this country.

The poll results suggest that the public overall, not just Hispanics, will back his efforts. Sixty-two percent of Americans now favor providing a way for illegal immigrants in the U.S. to become citizens, an increase from just 50 percent in the summer of 2010, the last time the AP polled on the question.

In an even earlier poll, in 2009, some 47 percent supported a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

Further boosting the president on the issue, Democrats have opened a 41 percent to 34 percent advantage as the party more trusted to handle immigration, the first time they’ve held a significant edge on the matter in AP-GfK polling. In October 2010, Republicans held a slight edge over Democrats, 46 percent to 41 percent, on the question of who was more trusted on immigration.

Much of the increase in support for a path to eventual citizenship has come among Republicans. A majority in the GOP — 53 percent — now favor the change. That’s up a striking 22 percentage points from 2010. Seventy-two percent of Democrats and 55 percent of independents like the idea, similar to 2010.

The findings suggest that those GOP lawmakers weighing support for eventual legal status for illegal immigrants could be rewarded politically not just by Democrats and independents but also by some in their own party as well. This comes amid soul-searching in the party about how the GOP can broaden its support with Latinos, who backed Obama over Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, 71 percent to 27 percent, in November. Romney received less support from Latinos than Republican President George W. Bush did. But his slice was on par with candidates Bob Dole in 1996 and George H.W. Bush in 1992.

Some Republicans have concluded that backing comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship is becoming a political necessity. Many lawmakers remain strongly opposed, and it’s far from clear whether Congress will ultimately sign off on such an approach. But in the Senate, a bipartisan group of lawmakers is working to draft immigration legislation, and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a possible 2016 presidential candidate, has offered proposals that would ultimately allow illegal immigrants to attain legal status.

One poll participant, Nick Nanos, 66, of Bellmore, N.Y., said that providing a way for illegal immigrants to become citizens would respect America’s history as a nation built by immigrants.

“We act as if our grandparents got here legally. Don’t want to ask a single Indian about that,” Nanos said in a follow-up interview. “I don’t think that most of us can solidly come to a point where our grandparents or great-grandparents or great-great-grandparents were here legally. What does that even mean?”

Overall, 54 percent in the poll said immigration is an important issue to them personally, a figure that’s remained steady over the past couple of years.

Republicans aren’t the only group whose views have shifted significantly. In August of 2010, just 39 percent of seniors favored a path to citizenship. Now, 55 percent do. Among those without a college degree, support has increased from 45 percent to 57 percent.

And 59 percent of whites now favor a way for illegal immigrants to gain citizenship, up from 44 percent in August 2010, and 41 percent in September 2009.

Overall, the poll found 35 percent strongly favored allowing illegal immigrants to become citizens over time, while 27 percent favored the idea somewhat. Just 35 percent of Americans opposed the approach, with 23 percent strongly opposed and 12 percent somewhat opposed. That compared with 48 percent opposed in 2010 and 50 percent in 2009.

The poll also found strong support for Obama’s decision, announced last summer, to shield as many as 800,000 immigrants from deportation with conditions. Those affected would have to be younger than 30, would have to have been brought to the U.S. before turning 16 and would have to fulfill certain other conditions including graduation from high school or serving in the military. Illegal immigrants covered by the order now can apply for work permits. The order bypassed Congress, which has not passed “DREAM Act” legislation to achieve some of the same goals for younger illegal immigrants.

Sixty-three percent of Americans favor that policy, while 20 percent oppose it and 17 percent are in between or unsure, the poll said. The policy is supported by 76 percent of Democrats, significantly more than among Republicans (48 percent) or independents (59 percent).

Cordel Welch, 41, of Los Angeles, was among those poll participants who believes illegal immigrants brought to the country as children should be treated differently from people who came here as adults.

“The ones that were brought here by their parents, they’re already here, they’re already established,” Welch said in an interview. “The adults should go through the process.”

Melissa Johnson, 40, of Porter, Texas, disagreed.

“I think there were generations of people that came over here legally, and just because your parents snuck you in or snuck in while pregnant with you doesn’t give you automatic citizenship,” she said. “I think they should send them all back home.”

The Associated Press-GfK Poll was conducted Jan. 10-14, 2013, by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cellphone interviews with 1,004 adults nationwide. Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points; the margin is larger for subgroups.

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Online: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com

 

Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report

How the AP-GfK poll was conducted

By The Associated Press

The Associated Press-GfK poll on immigration was conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications from Jan. 10-14. It is based on landline telephone and cellphone interviews with a nationally representative random sample of 1,004 adults. Interviews were conducted with 604 respondents on landline telephones and 400 on cellular telephones.

Digits in the phone numbers dialed were generated randomly to reach households with unlisted and listed landline and cellphone numbers.

Interviews were conducted in both English and Spanish.

As is done routinely in surveys, results were weighted, or adjusted, to ensure that responses accurately reflect the population’s makeup by factors such as age, sex, education and race. In addition, the weighting took into account patterns of phone use — landline only, cell only and both types — by region.

No more than 1 time in 20 should chance variations in the sample cause the results to vary by more than plus or minus 4.0 percentage points from the answers that would be obtained if all adults in the U.S. were polled.

There are other sources of potential error in polls, including the wording and order of questions.

The questions and results are available at http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com.

 

Topline results are available at http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com and http://surveys.ap.org.

AP-GfK Poll: End game: No immigration deal, just divisions

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Congress that began with bright hopes for immigration legislation is ending in bitter divisions on the issue even as some Republicans warn that the political imperative for acting is stronger than ever for the GOP.

In place of a legislative solution, President Barack Obama’s recent executive action to curb deportations for millions here illegally stands as the only federal response to what all lawmakers agree is a dysfunctional immigration system. Many Democrats are convinced Latino voters will reward them for Obama’s move in the 2016 presidential and Senate elections, while some Republicans fear they will have a price to pay.

“If we don’t make some down payment toward a rational solution on immigration in 2015, early 2016, good luck winning the White House,” said Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, an author of the comprehensive immigration bill that passed the Senate last year with bipartisan support, but stalled in the GOP-led House.

With the expiration of the 113th Congress this month, that bill will officially die, along with its path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants in this country illegally.

Immigration is certain to be a focus for the new, fully Republican-led Congress when it convenes in January — but there’s little expectation the GOP will make another attempt at comprehensive reforms.

Instead, GOP leaders in the House and Senate have pledged to take action to block Obama’s executive moves, setting up a battle for late February when funding expires for the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees immigration matters. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has promised action on a border security bill as part of that.

Whether Congress can do anything to stop Obama remains unclear, since he’s certain to veto any effort to undo his executive moves. It’s also not clear lawmakers could pass a border bill, or that Obama would sign it if they did.

While some congressional Republicans are arguing for action on piecemeal reforms, most advocates are resigned to waiting until a new president takes office in 2017 for lawmakers to make another attempt at a comprehensive overhaul that resolves the central immigration dilemma — the status of the millions here illegally.

“They had the best chance in a generation and they couldn’t get enough support from the Republican caucus,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, an immigrant advocacy group. “It may well be that they’re going to have to lose the White House and both chambers of Congress for us to get comprehensive immigration reform.”

When Obama won a second term in 2012 with strong Hispanic and Asian support, many national Republican leaders decided they needed to support policies that would attract those growing blocs of voters. The Republican National Committee formally embraced support for comprehensive immigration reform as a guiding principle for the GOP.

But legislative efforts stalled in the House as conservative Republicans balked at Boehner’s efforts to advance the issue. Last summer’s crisis over an influx of unaccompanied Central American minors arriving at the border caused shelter overloads and case backlogs, straining resources and creating the impression that the border was out of control — further souring political prospects for reform legislation.

In absence of congressional efforts, Obama promised he would act on his own, and he made good on that shortly after last month’s midterm elections, announcing an array of changes that will include work permits and three-year deportation stays for some 4 million immigrants here illegally. It mostly applies to those who’ve been here more than five years and have kids who are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents.

The move inflamed Republicans, who have been fighting about it ever since, including a failed effort by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, to block Obama in a Senate floor vote this past weekend. On Tuesday the dispute spilled over into debate on Obama’s nominee to lead the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, Sarah Saldana, the U.S. attorney in Dallas. She was confirmed 55-39 by the Senate over objections from Republicans who had initially supported her but turned against her because of her support for Obama’s executive actions.

Meanwhile, some immigration advocates complained that the steps didn’t go far enough as Obama faced criticism from both sides of the political divide.

A new Associated Press-GfK poll found that most Americans support allowing immigrants living in the country illegally a way to stay here lawfully. But only 43 percent of them think Obama was right to take executive action to make those changes, while 54 percent of them say he should have kept trying to make a deal with Republicans. Still, the poll also showed little sign of blowback for Obama. Although 57 percent disapprove of Obama’s handling of the immigration issue, that was down slightly from 63 percent in October.

A group of 24 states joined in a federal lawsuit filed in Texas alleging that Obama overstepped his constitutional powers in a way that will only worsen the humanitarian problems along the southern U.S. border. And Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio is in federal court in Washington, contending that the policy is a magnet for more illegal entries into the country that will impose a burden on law enforcement.

In a court filing late Monday, the Justice Department argued for dismissal of Arpaio’s case, saying he has failed to substantiate his claims.

Congressional Republicans say that Obama’s actions created an even tougher climate for immigration legislation, but many Democrats and advocates contend that Republicans were terminally stalled on the issue anyway. Some Republicans question whether immigration legislation really is a political imperative for the GOP. “It’s really mixed out there — some people want a big immigration bill, others don’t,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a supporter of reform efforts.

And two years after a “Gang of Eight” senators launched an immigration overhaul drive on Capitol Hill, some of those same players say they have no plans to initiate another such effort.

“I’m not going to start it in the Senate,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. “We’ve tried that.”

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Associated Press News Survey Specialist Emily Swanson and writer Pete Yost contributed to this report.


AP-GfK Poll: Crunch time again for health insurance sign-ups

By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar

WASHINGTON (AP) – President Barack Obama’s push to cover America’s uninsured faces another big test Monday.

 

This time, it’s not only how the website functions, but how well the program itself works for millions who are starting to count on it.

 

Midnight Monday, Pacific time is the deadline for new customers to pick a health plan that will take effect Jan. 1, and for current enrollees to make changes that could reduce premium increases ahead of the new year.

 

HealthCare.gov and state insurance websites are preparing for heavy online traffic before the deadline, which gives consumers in the East three hours into Tuesday to enroll.

 

Wait times at the federal call center started creeping up around the middle of last week, mainly due to a surge of current customers with questions about their coverage for next year. Many will face higher premiums, although they could ease the hit by shopping online for a better deal. Counselors reported hold times of 20 minutes or longer for the telephone help line.

 

About 6.7 million people now have coverage through Obama’s signature law, which offers subsidized private insurance. The administration wants to increase that to 9.1 million in 2015. To do that, the program will have to keep most of its current enrollees while signing up more than 2 million new paying customers.

 

People no longer can be turned down because of health problems, but picking insurance still is daunting for many consumers. They also have to navigate the process of applying for or updating federal subsidies, which can be complex for certain people, including immigrants. Many returning customers are contending with premium increases generally in the mid-to-high single digits, but much more in some cases.

 

Consumers “understand it’s complicated but they appreciate the ability to get health insurance,” said Elizabeth Colvin of Foundation Communities, an Austin, Texas, nonprofit that is helping sign up low-income residents. “People who haven’t gone through the process don’t understand how complicated it is.”

 

Last year’s open enrollment season turned into a race to salvage the reputation of the White House by fixing numerous technical bugs that crippled HealthCare.gov from its first day. With the website now working fairly well, sign-up season this year is a test of whether the program itself is practical for the people it is intended to serve.

 

New wrinkles have kept popping up, even with seemingly simple features of the Affordable Care Act.

 

For example, most current customers who do nothing will be automatically renewed Jan. 1 in the plan they now are in. At this point, it looks like that is what a majority intends to do.

 

While that may sound straightforward, it’s not.

 

By staying in their current plans, people can get locked into a premium increase and miss out on lower-priced plans for 2015. Not only that, they also will keep their 2014 subsidies, which may be less than what they legally would be entitled to for next year.

 

Doing nothing appears to be a particularly bad idea for people who turned 21 this year, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington group that advocates for low-income people.

 

Researchers at the center estimate that 21-year-olds will see a 58 percent increase in the sticker price for their premiums just because they’re a year older. An age-adjustment factor used to compute premiums jumps substantially when a person turns 21. A 20-year-old whose premium was $130 per month in 2014 will see the premium climb to $205 a month in 2015, solely because of that year’s difference.

 

Tax-credit subsidies can cancel out much or even all of the impact. But if consumers default to automatic renewal, their tax credits will not be updated and they will get the same subsidy as this year.

 

“Even in the best possible scenario of how many people we can expect to come in, we will still see a substantial number of people defaulting,” said Judy Solomon, a health care policy expert at the center. She worries that some young adults may get discouraged and drop out.

 

Reviews of HealthCare.gov and state health insurance exchanges are mixed.

 

An Associated Press-GfK poll this month found that 11 percent of Americans said they or someone else in their household tried to sign up since open enrollment began Nov. 15. Overall, 9 percent said the insurance markets are working extremely well or very well. Twenty-six percent said the exchanges are working somewhat well, and 39 percent said they were not working well. The remaining 24 percent said they didn’t know enough to rate performance.

 

So far it has been a frustrating experience for Marie Bagot, of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She and her husband are in their 60s, but not yet old enough for Medicare. The husband, who works as a chef, will turn 65 around the middle of next year and qualify for Medicare. Bagot said they were happy with their insurance this year under Obama’s law.

 

“As you get older, you worry about your health,” she said. “I was very pleased with the price we got.”

 

But Bagot said she received a notice from her insurer that her current plan will not be available next year in her community. The closest alternative would involve a premium increase of more than $350 a month, even with their tax credit subsidy. After days of trying to find a comparable plan through the federal call center and after visiting a counselor, Bagot said she opted to keep their current coverage, while hoping costs go down after her husband joins Medicare.

 

“I cannot afford it, but I’m going to try to,” she said.

 

Monday is not the last chance for consumers like Bagot. Open enrollment doesn’t end until Feb. 15.

 

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Associated Press Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.