Poll: Most see harm to budget

A majority of Nevadans think illegal immigration is having a negative effect on the state's budget, according to a Zogby poll released last week.

More than three-quarters of Nevadans said illegal immigration is affecting the state's budget either very negatively or somewhat negatively, while 10 percent said illegal immigration has a somewhat or very positive effect on the state's budget.

The January poll of 501 Nevadans has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

The Zogby poll was commissioned by the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization that seeks to reform immigration policies, improve border security and stop illegal immigration.

FAIR released the poll in conjunction with its study, "The Costs of Illegal Immigration to Nevadans," which estimated the annual fiscal burden on Nevada associated with illegal immigration to be about $630 million in education, health care and incarceration costs.

FAIR used census, Department of Homeland Security and other estimates of Nevada's illegal immigrant population to come up with its cost estimate.

Most estimates of the number of illegal immigrants in Nevada range from 150,000 to 250,000.

"There is a significant fiscal cost associated with illegal immigration," said Dan Stein, president of FAIR. "We believe people who create (immigration) policies ought to take that into consideration."

But Bob Fulkerson, state director of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, said it's impossible to come up with reliable estimates of how much illegal immigration costs Nevada.

"What we do know is that for the services they (illegal immigrants) do use, they pay taxes," Fulkerson said.

PLAN in 2007 released a report that said Hispanic immigrants contribute millions of dollars to the Nevada economy and make up an inextricable part of the work force.

PLAN's report did not distinguish between illegal and legal immigrants.

Fulkerson called FAIR a "hate group" that is "selling hatred toward immigrants."

"The real terrifying part of FAIR's message is that it unjustly scapegoats undocumented people for economic problems," Fulkerson said. "These are scary economic times, and we are looking for people to blame."

FAIR also has been classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights law firm that tracks hate groups nationwide.

Representatives from the center could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

Stein said organizations that call FAIR a hate group do so because such organizations have no solutions for immigration-related problems.

"They have no workable answers, so they engage in those tactics," Stein said.

Zogby pollsters also asked Nevadans about their opinions on E-Verify, a program that helps employers determine whether employees are authorized to work in the United States.

Eighty-three percent of those polled said it's important that Congress reauthorize the E-Verify program.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., was mentioned in two poll questions.

The first asked whether the economic stimulus package proposed by President Barack Obama, with Reid's support, should have safeguards such as E-Verify in place "to make sure that only legal U.S. workers can fill jobs created with taxpayer money." Seventy-eight percent of Nevadans agreed the plan should have such safeguards.

Another question states that Reid wants to "reintroduce an immigration reform bill that would legalize or grant amnesty to an estimated 13 million illegal immigrants living in the U.S."

The poll asks respondents whether they either "oppose legalization or amnesty for illegal immigrants" and think the government should enforce and strengthen existing immigration laws, or "support granting legalization or amnesty to current illegal immigrants." Fifty-five percent of Nevadans chose the former option, while 34 percent chose the latter.

The poll did not offer respondents the option of supporting a path to legalization for illegal immigrants already in the United States who meet certain requirements such as learning English or paying fines.

Reid issued a statement Tuesday afternoon in response to questions about FAIR's poll, saying it is disappointing that "some people continue using immigration over and over just to score political points, calling immigrants the root of all problems."

"Our immigration system is broken, no doubt about it," Reid said in the statement. "That is why I believe in a comprehensive solution that is tough, fair and practical. That includes securing our borders, imposing tough sanctions on employers who hire individuals who are not authorized to work, and requiring immigrants who are in this country illegally to get right with the law."

Those immigrants should be required to learn English, pass criminal background checks and pay their "full share of taxes," Reid said.

Contact reporter Lynnette Curtis at lcurtis@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0285.