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Approval of Tough-Talking Wilson Rises

California governor gains with constituents since taking stand against illegal immigration

EDITORIAL columns and news space across the Golden State continue to bulge with debates of immigration, fanned by Gov. Pete Wilson's recent call to "repeal the perverse incentives that now exist for people to immigrate to this country illegally."

The debate is being punctuated by a compelling, some say historic, twist: The man who made the comments, the most unpopular governor here since polls have been kept, has gone up significantly in statewide approval ratings.

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In a California Field poll released last week, Mr. Wilson's performance is rated as good or excellent by 22 percent, as fair by 39 percent, and as poor by 33 percent. By comparison, only 15 percent of Californians rated Wilson's performance as good or excellent three months ago.

In a detailed plan sent via open letter to the White House Aug. 10, Wilson called for denying citizenship to the children of undocumented aliens, for cutting off health and education benefits, and for establishing a legal-resident eligibility card that would be required for all legal residents seeking benefits.

Riding the subsequent wave of public support for such ideas, Wilson, a Republican, angrily attacked Democrats who have contrasted his tough recent rhetoric on immigration with his more liberal stands during his years in the United States Senate.

"I think it's clear that people do want a solution because in fact the problem of illegal immigration is causing great hardship," Wilson said.

In earlier comments, he cited statistics estimating 2 million of the state's 31.5 million residents are in the state illegally, costing $2.3 billion in state funds annually.

After his remarks, Field polls showed 39 percent of those surveyed (525 adults, Aug. 12-18) believe illegal immigrants are taking jobs away from legal Californians, up from 30 percent in a 1987 survey.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, Democrats who recently made proposals to control illegal immigration, have also risen in popularity according to a separate Field poll.

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And in a third Field poll, public support is rising for more border control.

Statewide, 74 percent of Californians say illegal immigration has a negative impact on the state. Seventy-six percent say illegal immigration is a serious problem. Even among Latinos, 58 percent say illegal immigraion has a negative effect and 64 percent say it is a serious problem.

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