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Hoosiers support immigration policy overhaul: Poll

– Indiana Farm Bureau wants Congress to overhaul the U.S. immigration system. Most Hoosiers do, too, according to poll results released Wednesday.

The farm advocacy organization took part Wednesday in a Day of Action, in which a national coalition of business groups – including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Association of Manufacturers – pressed federal lawmakers to act on immigration legislation that has stalled in the House.

Kyle Cline, national policy adviser for Indiana Farm Bureau, said immigrants account for 80 percent of the people hired to work for U.S. farms. But a federal cap on guest-worker visas has resulted in a labor shortage, he said, including in Indiana – particularly for dairy producers in the northern part of the state and melon growers in the southern part.

“The key issue undermining their expansion and further investment is labor. They just simply cannot find enough workers to work in their fields, to work in their production facilities there on the farm,” Cline said in a conference call.

Guest workers, on average, earn $11 to $12 an hour, he said.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce seeks an increase in worker visas, an upgraded employment verification system, improved border security and providing undocumented workers with legal status.

“Our members tell us year after year that this is one of their highest priorities for Congress to fix,” said Maggie Sheely, congressional and public affairs manager for the Chamber’s Great Lakes Region.

“What we are hearing is that immigration is done for the year; there’s going to be no bill,” Sheely said. “But that doesn’t take the problem away, so we are going to continue to talk about it.”

Three members of the business coalition conducted a nationwide survey and 22 state polls on what likely voters think about immigration legislation. Here is a sampling of the results:

•65 percent of Indiana voters, and 61 percent of national respondents, support an immigration reform plan that secures U.S. borders, expands visas for highly skilled and farm workers, establishes an employer verification program, allows children brought to the U.S. illegally to earn citizenship and provides visas to undocumented immigrants without criminal records who pay penalties and back taxes.

•88 percent of Hoosiers say Congress should take action on immigration, and 84 percent say Congress should act this year. Both numbers are higher than national figures.

•38 percent of Hoosiers favor granting legal status to undocumented immigrants with eligibility for citizenship, 29 percent favor legal status without citizenship, and 26 percent favor deporting undocumented immigrants.

•13 percent of Hoosiers say immigration is the first- or second-most important issue in how they will vote in congressional elections this year, compared with 16 percent nationally. The number is much higher in Arizona (27 percent), although it dips in Texas and California (21 percent each).

The poll of 510 Indiana residents was taken June 24-30 by Harper Polling. The margin of error is 4.3 percent. Forty-five percent of respondents said they are Republicans, 33 percent are Democrats, and 22 percent identified themselves as independents or affiliated with another party.

The Senate passed a comprehensive immigration bill in June 2013 by a 68-32 vote. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., voted in favor of the bill, while Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., opposed it.

Donnelly “cited his efforts to help introduce and pass an amendment to enact the strongest border security measures in our nation’s history, as well as the bill’s inclusion of provisions to protect and grow our economy and hold accountable those who have broken the law,” his communications director, Elizabeth Shappell, said Wednesday in an email.

Coats said at the time of the vote he would not support legislation that allowed immigration applications to be processed before border protection measures could be verified.

Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-3rd, said in April that he favors dividing the immigration bill into separate pieces of legislation that address specific subjects, including visas, employment verification and border security.