Washington People are now about as likely to mention immigration as the economy when they are asked to name the most important problem facing the United States, though both rank behind war in Iraq, an AP-Ipsos poll found.
Immigration's rise in the latest survey about the nation's top problems suggests the public is keeping close watch on the immigration debate in Congress and reaction across the country.
"Nobody is happy about the war, but the war is far away - the immigration issue is right here," said Dagmar Washington, a nurse from the Atlanta suburbs.
Efforts in the Senate to pass sweeping immigration legislation faltered Friday, leaving in doubt the prospects for passage of a measure that offered the hope of citizenship to millions of men, women and children living in the United States illegally.
The rise in public concern about immigration over the last three months has been substantial.
When people were asked last week to name the top national problem that came to mind, 13 percent said immigration - four times the number who said that in January. Roughly the same number, 14 percent of those polled, named the economy, according to the poll of 500 adults conducted April 3-5. The survey has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.
More than 11 million illegal immigrants are believed to be in this country now, with thousands more coming in all the time. About 1.2 million illegal immigrants were apprehended last year along the nation's border with Mexico, according to immigration officials.
Ron Smith of Corpus Christi, Texas, has a front-row seat.
"A lot of it is happening where I live," said Smith, who lives about 150 miles from the Mexican border.
"When I was younger, the amount of illegals coming across the border was a lot less," said Smith, 51. "Now, I think there is a systematic disregard for the border patrol."
As immigration concerns have grown, economic worries have dipped. Only 14 percent now say the economy and related issues are their top concern, compared with 24 percent in October.
While consumers remain edgy and the housing market is cooler, the economy is believed to be growing at a brisk rate so far this year. Solid hiring totals during the last month pushed the unemployment rate to its lowest point in more than four years.
For Shirley Mosko of Tampa, Fla., the economy is a big concern that is tied closely to the war in Iraq.
"Iraq leads to this nation's economic problems," she said. "We didn't have the huge deficit before the war. I want to see the people of Iraq form their own government, let them take control of their own country and I want us to get out of there as soon as we can."
About one in five, 19 percent, said they view war as the nation's top problem.
"The tax money we're paying is going to another country to rebuild it," said Charles Jones of Vancouver, Wash. "The Iraq war is going to hurt this country more and more."