More than 6 in 10 Americans now favour allowing illegal immigrants to eventually become US 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 meagre 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 US a centerpiece of his second-term agenda.

In the coming weeks, he is 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 per cent of Americans now favour providing a way for illegal immigrants in the US to become citizens, an increase from just 50 per cent in the summer of 2010, the last time the AP polled on the question.

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

Further boosting the president on the issue, Democrats have opened a 41 per cent to 34 per cent advantage as the party more trusted to handle immigration, the first time they have held a significant edge on the matter in AP-GfK polling.

In October 2010, Republicans held a slight edge over Democrats, 46 per cent to 41 per cent, 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 Republican party 53 per cent now favour the change. That is up a striking 22 percentage points from 2010. Seventy-two per cent of Democrats and 55 per cent of independents like the idea, similar to 2010.

The findings suggest that those Republican 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 article was published on January 23, 2013)
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