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Immigration Debate Resonates Throughout U.S.

As the Senate takes a break from debating the latest iteration of the immigration bill this week, legislators have been trying to assess public opinion on the issue. The NewsHour explores the attitudes around the country through the lens of regional newspaper editors.

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  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    This week, members of Congress on recess are trying to gauge popular opinion on the controversial topic of immigration reform. Among its key points, the proposed legislation now before the Senate would provide a path to citizenship for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants already in the country; create a guest-worker program; and base future immigration decisions more on job skills and education and less on family ties.

    Recent opinion polls show that Americans favor changes to the current system but are sharply divided over the benefits of recent immigration and how open the U.S. should be in the future.

    We explore attitudes around the country now with Robert Robb, a columnist at the Arizona Republic, and four editorial page editors, Carol Hunter of the Des Moines Register in Iowa, Henrik Rehbinder of La Opinion in Los Angeles, the nation's largest Spanish-language newspaper, Rachelle Cohen of the Boston Herald, and Cynthia Tucker of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, who won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary since we last spoke to her.

    So, first, Cynthia, I want to say congratulations to you.

  • CYNTHIA TUCKER, Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

    Thank you. Thank you, Jeff.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Let me start with you, Cynthia, because you're in a state that has seen one of the fastest-growing population changes with immigrants coming in. How big an issue is it there? And in what ways does it play out?

  • CYNTHIA TUCKER:

    It is a huge issue here. And it has been growing, bubbling up under the surface, for about four or five years here in Georgia. Georgia is a heavily Republican state and, as far as I can tell, most Republicans in Georgia seem to oppose the compromise bill that would put illegal immigrants on the path to citizenship.

    I don't know for sure that most Georgians oppose it, because I haven't seen any statewide polls, but I would venture a guess that at least a substantial minority of Georgians oppose the bill and that they are certainly making their views heard. Most of the letters to the editor that we have received over the last three months have opposed any form of legalization for the illegal immigrants already here.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    Robert Robb, in Phoenix this is, of course, not a new issue. How do you see attitudes out there today?

  • ROBERT ROBB, The Arizona Republic:

    Well, Arizona is sort of ground zero for the illegal immigration issue. We have the largest concentration of illegal immigrants as a percentage of population of any state in the union.

    And the reaction to the Senate compromise bill has been a political explosion among immigration restrictionists in opposition to the legalization measure, which they, of course, call "amnesty." This has been accentuated by the fact that both of our U.S. senators, our Republican U.S. senators, John McCain and Jon Kyl, were key architects of the compromise. And so that's been the dominant discussion of the issue, with very little attention paid to the many other provisions in the compromise legislation.