Forty-six percent of Americans say they prefer a political candidate with a harder line on illegal aliens while 38 percent opt for one who wants to expand legal opportunities for foreign workers, according to a new national opinion poll.

Rasmussen Reports, asking Americans to choose between two hypothetical candidates, also found 50 percent of Americans say the immigration issue is very important. Another 32 percent say it is somewhat important.

The survey asked respondents to consider: “One candidate favors building a barrier along the Mexican border and forcing illegal aliens to leave the United States. The other candidate favors expanding the ways that foreign workers can legally get jobs in the United States.”

Rasmussen found that among those who say the immigration issue is very important in determining their vote, the pro-enforcement candidate is favored by a margin of 67 percent to 23 percent.

“This suggests that the short-term political advantage on the immigration issue lies with those who want a tougher enforcement policy,” Rasmussen said.

A previous Rasmussen poll found two-thirds of Americans believe it doesn’t make sense to debate new immigration laws until we can first control our borders and enforce existing laws. It also revealed 40 percent of Americans favor “forcibly” requiring all of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants to leave the United States.

Rasmussen said that while candidates who favor tougher enforcement may reap short-term benefits, the long-term implications are less clear. Neither party at the moment, the pollster observes, enjoys unity within its own ranks on the issue.

Earlier this year, Rasmussen conducted state-by-state surveys and found distinct regional differences on the issue. People in the Southwest tended to view the issue as important as the war in Iraq, while New Englanders considered immigration a far less important issue.

Other results of the latest survey include:

Fifty-four percent oppose the current U.S. law that grants automatic citizenship to children of illegal aliens born in the United States. Thirty-six percent favor the policy.

Among those who say immigration is a very important voting issue, 63 percent oppose automatic citizenship.

Just 27 percent of Americans believe the U.S. should provide foreign aid to help create jobs in Mexico.

If you would like to sound off on this issue, participate in today’s WND Poll.

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Illegals crackdown ‘too little, too late’

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Chertoff declares: Expel all illegals

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