updated 3/28/2006 6:38:08 PM ET 2006-03-28T23:38:08

A majority of immigrants who came to the United States legally think undocumented workers help the economy by providing cheap labor, according to a poll released Tuesday.

Eighty-one percent of those surveyed said illegal immigrants accept low-end jobs that Americans don’t want. Some 73 percent said illegal immigrants aided the economy by supplying low-cost labor.

“By an overwhelming percentage, legal immigrants don’t have bad feelings toward the undocumented,” said Sergio Bendixen, whose firm Bendixen & Associates conducted the poll.

The poll was based on telephone interviews with 800 legal immigrants from Latin America, Asia, Europe and Africa between Feb. 24 and March 21. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

The findings come as the U.S. Senate considers immigration reform proposals, including legislation that passed a panel Monday clearing the way for 11 million illegal aliens to seek U.S. citizenship.

The House of Representatives has already passed legislation that would make it a felony to be in the U.S. illegally, impose new penalties on employers who hire illegals and erect more fences along the U.S.-Mexican border.

Support for temporary work permits
When told about reform proposals in Congress, 68 percent of poll respondents said they supported temporary work permits for illegal immigrants and a way for them to apply for residency after learning English and paying a fine.

Video: Web site walkouts That seems to conflict with arguments by some lawmakers opposed to any kind of legalization program. Those politicians say it would be unfair to legal residents who’ve played by the rules.

The poll findings were in line with the opinions of many legal immigrants who have poured into the streets around the nation to protest against legislation that harshly cracks down on illegal immigrants.

“Nobody comes here to get on welfare,” said Perias Pillay, 43, who was 18 when he immigrated legally from Malaysia. “They come here to work, and as long as we need workers we should let them come.”

Asked about lawmakers’ handling of immigration issues, 32 percent of those surveyed said Congress and President Bush were doing a good job. Democrats received the highest approval with 38 percent. Republicans garnered 22 percent.

The poll was commissioned by New America Media, a nonprofit San Francisco-based umbrella organization for more than 700 ethnic media outlets. Researchers said immigrants in 47 states were interviewed by using random digit dialing in areas of the country with high numbers of immigrant subgroups.

'People see us as criminals'
More than 60 percent of immigrants interviewed said they were alarmed by the tone of the immigration reform debate. Sixty-seven percent said they believed anti-immigration sentiment was growing, and 64 percent said it was fueled by racism.

Delia Adene, 48, who immigrated legally from Mexico and joined the Los Angeles rally, said she was worried about the intensifying rhetoric.

“I feel like people see us as criminals now because we want to help our families,” Adene said. “We do need more control of the border, but politicians need to talk about this with human justice in mind.”

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