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Obama pollster skeptical of GOP immigration plan

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WASHINGTON – Republican immigration proposals that would leave out a pathway to citizenship for those in the country illegally won’t solve the GOP’s problems with Latino voters, President Obama’s pollster, Joel Benenson, said Wednesday.

Republican leaders in the House plan to put forward an outline of an immigration package this week. A centerpiece of their plan would allow most of the estimated 11 million people who entered the country illegally or overstayed their visas to remain and work without fear of deportation. But the plan would not provide a specific route by which they could eventually become citizens.

Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and other GOP leaders hope the proposal will gain support from Republicans in the House who have rejected a Senate-passed bill that provides a 13-year path to citizenship for most of the nation’s unauthorized immigrants. Many Republicans oppose any special citizenship provision as a form of amnesty.

Republican leaders have been under pressure to move a bill through the House because many party strategists believe that failure to pass some form of immigration legislation will hurt the party’s already low standing among Latino voters.

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Benenson, speaking at a breakfast session with reporters in Washington, stressed that he was not commenting on whether Obama would sign legislation that does not include a citizenship provision. But, he said, extensive polling on the issue makes him skeptical the emerging GOP plan would achieve its political goal.

Several public polls have indicated that many immigrants put protection against deportation ahead of citizenship on their list of priorities. But, Benenson said, the “path to citizenship is key.”

Latinos “don’t want to be second-class,” he said. “I do not believe the American people are going to be satisfied” with a bill that stops short of citizenship, he added. “And I don’t believe Latino voters will.”

Meanwhile, the leadership proposal continues to face strong opposition from some GOP conservatives who fear that the issue will divide Republicans and that any bill which passes the House would, after negotiations with the Senate, become too liberal.

"I think members are starting to realize you cannot possibly put any immigration [bill] on the president's desk that is good for this country and get the president to sign it,” said Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), one of the most outspoken opponents of immigration reform in the House.

“Any debate we have over here in the House is only going to divide Republicans and unify Democrats," King said Tuesday night. "The best course of action is to say, 'We're not taking up immigration.'"

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) also said he opposed Obama's push for immigration reform, arguing that it would add to the unemployment problems in the country.

"I found that rather disturbing that he could with a straight face talk about how much he cared about the unemployed while he is advocating so strongly this amnesty which would not only add 10 to 20 million more workers, would likely bring in so many millions more into our country," Rohrabacher said.

Staff Writers Daniel Rothberg and Brian Bennett contributed to this report.

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david.lauter@latimes.com

Twitter: @davidlauter

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