An overwhelming majority of likely Latino voters supports both the DREAM Act and a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in general, even as GOP candidates continue to dig their heels in on the immigration issue, an exclusive national poll by Fox News Latino and Latin Insights has found.   

Ninety percent of Latino voters surveyed said they supported the DREAM Act, legislation that would provide a path to citizenship for undocumented youths who attend university or serve in the military.

The DREAM Act has long been a consensus issue for Latinos, few of whom view undocumented youth as responsible for the decision to immigrate.

But the poll also found that 85.9 percent of registered Latino voters supported providing a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in general, indicating broad consensus among Hispanics that people of all ages should be given a chance to normalize their status.

Latino support of a path for citizenship is significantly higher than the general population’s, though recent polling data indicates a majority of American voters support a path to citizenship for the undocumented, independent of ethnicity.

A Fox News poll released in December found 66 percent of registered voters supported allowing undocumented immigrants remain in the country and eventually qualify for citizenship, on the condition that they meet requirements including learning English, paying back taxes and pass background checks. Fifty-seven percent of Republicans surveyed in the December poll supported a path to citizenship under those requirements.

GOP Hopefuls Losing Ground Among Latinos: Fox News Latino Exclusive Poll

Consensus among Latino voters on the immigration issue appears clear, though GOP candidates continue to take hardline stances.

At a televised debate last month in Mesa, Arizona, Mitt Romney called Arizona’s E-Verify law a “model” for the nation and said that if elected he would drop Justice Department lawsuits against states that have passed laws mandating local police to enforce federal immigration law.

Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, and Newt Gingrich espouse similar positions emphasizing border security rather than immigration reform, though Gingrich has spoken in favor of creating a path to path to legal residency for some immigrants who have lived in the United States for many years.

Instead, the remaining GOP candidates have adopted a strategy of trying to win over Latinos over by focusing their messages on issues that both Latinos and non-Latinos care about, such as jobs and the economy.

There are reasons to think such a strategy might resonate.

While the clear majority of the Latino community favors passing the DREAM Act and comprehensive immigration reform legislation, few Hispanics polled viewed immigration as the top issue of the 2012 presidential election. Immigration came in fourth with 12 percent, behind the economy and jobs (49 percent), education (15 percent) and health care (15 percent).  

But Latinos tend to feel passionately about immigration, since the issue affects Hispanics more directly than any other U.S. community. Some 81 percent of the United States’ roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants were born in Latin America, according to a Feb. 2011 study by the Pew Hispanic Center.  

For Latinos, Immigration is More Personal Than Political, Fox News Latino Poll Says

“For us, it’s a hot button issue,” Angelo Falcon of the National Institute for Latino Policy told Fox News Latino. “When you hear the candidates talking about immigration, for the most part you know they’re talking about Latinos. You could even make the argument that they’re talking mostly about Mexicans.”

While Latino voters’ positions on the DREAM Act and providing a path to citizenship to undocumented immigrants puts them at odds with GOP hopefuls, Latinos did not view Obama’s performance on immigration with much enthusiasm either.

Less than half (46 percent) of those polled said they approved of Obama’s handling of the immigration issue, even though the president openly supports the DREAM Act and comprehensive immigration reform.

Part of the reason for Obama’s poor rating by Latinos on immigration despite similar policy positions may be his inability to push the immigration legislation he says he supports through Congress.

At the same time, deportations have reached record-high levels under the Obama administration, which deported nearly 400,000 people in the 2011 fiscal year.  

“The heated rhetoric from GOP candidates, the political fear mongering of the anti-immigration side, and the lukewarm support of some Democrats for immigration reform all is being watched very closely by Latino voters,” Congressman Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), an advocate of the DREAM Act and a path to citizenship for the undocumented, said in an email to Fox News Latino. “(Latino voters) will play a huge role in who sits in the White House, the House and the Senate for decades to come.”

While immigration reform advocates often view the GOP candidates’ rhetoric on immigration as unappealing to Latinos, Dan Stein of FAIR, a pro-enforcement advocacy group, says President Obama and other Democrats are playing off of fears of prejudice for political gain.  

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Stein praised Republican candidates for discussing policy proposals including E-Verify during the primary debates, while criticizing reform proposals he referred to as “mass amnesty.”

“Latinos don’t vote on immigration policy unless there are politicians that are trying to convince Latino voters that their opponents are motivated by anti-Latino bias,” Stein said. “That’s what the Obama administration is trying to do.”

The Fox News Latino/Latin Insights poll was conducted by Latin Insights, a New York based independent research company, and compiled through a telephone survey conducted among a nationally representative sample of 1,200 likely Latino voters. The respondents were given the option of completing the survey in English and Spanish.

The margin of error for the poll is +/- 2.7 percent with 95 percent confidence.

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Roque Planas can be reached at roque.planas@foxnewslatino.com or via Twitter at @RoqPlanas.

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