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*-- Obama slams 'anti-immigrant sentiment' --*

WASHINGTON - President Obama on Thursday slammed the "anti-immigration sentiment" that permeates the U.S. political landscape the same day a poll showed the two parties are moving further apart on immigration issues.

A Pew Research Center poll showed there is little common ground between Republicans and Democrats on immigration issues that include citizenship eligibility and building a fence along the Mexican border to keep migrants from illegally entering the country, an idea reintroduced by Donald Trump in his bid for the GOP nomination.

The poll showed in the past nine years Democrats have become more supportive of birthright citizenship, which is guaranteed by the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, while Republicans have become slightly more opposed. About half of Republicans polled favored amending the Constitution to ban birthright citizenship.

About two-thirds of Republicans said illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay if requirements are met. At the same time, 80 percent of Democrats said undocumented immigrants should be allowed to stay in the U.S. legally if they meet certain requirements.

Support for the Mexican border wall has growing support among the GOP from 65 percent in 2007 to 73 percent today, the poll showed. Democratic support has declined from 39 percent to 29 percent in the same time period.

Obama, speaking at Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute on Thursday, did not specifically mention any candidates in his comments, but said "America's greatness does not come from building walls."

He said Republicans are looking to drag the country "further backwards" on immigration issues. Obama gave a nod to Republican President George W. Bush for making immigration reform a priority during his tenure.

"Think how much better our economy would be if the rest of his party got the message," Obama said. "Think about how much better off our country would be if Republican politicians hadn't spent years precisely trying to scare voters with tales of immigrants flooding across our borders and taking our jobs, and destroying America as we know it -- even though we know that when you look at what's happening at the borders, it's the lowest rates of immigration that we've seen since the 1970s."


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