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Immigration Issue More Important than Ever for U.S. Presidential Race
.S. Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) is joined by entertainer and talk show host Oprah Winfrey (R), as he addresses a campaign rally in Des Moines, Iowa, Dec. 8, 2007.(Xinhua Photo).

The immigration policy reform has become more important for the current U.S. presidential race than ever, as candidates from both parties are trying to strike the right balance on the controversial and sensitive issue, political analysts said.

A recent public opinion survey showed just how significant the immigration issue has become, with 81 percent of Americans saying they believe the issue is important.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll also underscored the issue's divisiveness: one in three respondents say most social services should be denied to illegal immigrants, while three in five support giving them a path to citizenship with certain caveats.

Immigration reform continues to be one of the most contentious issues in the Unties States, as the Congress failed to pass a comprehensive immigration bill earlier this year while the country still depends on millions of illegal immigrants as a pivotal part of its workforce.

Perhaps no moment in the presidential campaign has underlined the complexities of the thorny issue better than last month's clash of words between Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani during a campaign debate.

Romney accused the former New York City mayor of making his city a safe haven for illegal immigrants, while Giuliani said his opponent employed them at his Massachusetts home.

The debate exposed a dilemma that all presidential candidates face: They can't afford to look soft on illegal immigration, but in the meantime they can't ignore the fact that illegal immigrants play an important role in the U.S. economy.

Republicans are known to have an aggressive approach by proposing to deny federal funds to cities that do not enforce immigration laws, while Democrats try to appear neither too soft nor too harsh on the issue, proposing plans to secure borders but provide paths toward citizenship, analysts said.

Disputes among candidates on the immigration issue like that between Romney and Giuliani could hurt their campaigns, as such exchange of words focused more on the candidates discrediting each other than on proposing solutions, according to political analyst Tony Quinn.

Quinn, co-editor of the California Target Book, a non-partisan analysis of state politics, said that Republican candidates risk having their tough stands on illegal immigration construed as anti-Latino.

Statistics show that more than half of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants living in this country are of Latino descent, with the majority of them coming from Mexico.

Meanwhile, Latinos, who comprise about 15 percent of the U.S. population of 301 million and about 9 percent of the electorate, could make a change in the country's political landscape if they turn out against Republicans.

Analysts say American voters want someone who can solve problems across party lines especially on the immigration issue, which has become more heated in many parts of the country that have seen increasing numbers of immigrants.






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