Poll Shows Most in U.S. Want Overhaul of Immigration Laws
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Subject: Poll Shows Most in U.S. Want Overhaul of Immigration Laws
May 3, 2010
Poll Shows Most in U.S. Want Overhaul of Immigration Laws
By RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD and MEGAN THEE-BRENAN
LOS ANGELES — The overwhelming majority of Americans think the country’s
immigration policies need to be seriously
overhauled. And despite protests
against Arizona’s stringent new immigration enforcement law, a majority of
Americans support it, even though they say it may lead to racial profiling.
These are the findings of the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.
With the signing of the Arizona law on April 23 and reports of renewed efforts
in Washington to rethink immigration, there has been an uptick in the number of
Americans who describe illegal immigration as a serious
But the poll — conducted April 28 through May 2 with 1,079 adults, and with a
margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points — suggests
that Americans remain deeply divided about what to do.
The public broadly agrees, across party lines, that the United States could be
doing more along its border to keep illegal immigrants out. The view was shared
by 78 percent of the respondents.
That unity, however,
fractures on the question of what to do with illegal
immigrants who are already here and the role of states in enforcing immigration
law, normally a federal responsibility.
A majority of the people polled, 57 percent, said the federal government should
determine the laws addressing illegal immigration. But 51 percent said the
Arizona law was “about right” in its approach to the problem. Thirty-six
percent said it went too far and 9 percent said it did not go far
The law has recharged the national debate over securing the border and what to
do about the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants already in the country.
The Arizona law gives local police officers broad power to detain people they
suspect are in the country illegally and check their legal status. Lawsuits
have already been filed on several grounds, including the argument that it will
lead to the racial profiling of legal
residents and that the state has
unconstitutionally intruded on federal authority.
Under a torrent of criticism, the Arizona Legislature and Gov. Jan Brewer made
changes to the law on Friday that they say explicitly ban the police from
racial profiling and allow officers to inquire about immigration status only of
people they stop, detain or arrest in enforcing existing state law. But the new
immigration law also now includes civil violations of municipal codes as
check papers, and opponents were not mollified by the changes.
In follow-up interviews, poll respondents who embraced the thrust of the
Arizona law still called for a national solution.
“The Arizona law is fine, but the federal government has to step in and come
up with something — and they’re not doing it,” said Pat Turkos, 64, a
library worker and Republican from Baltimore.
She said: “I don’t think they should
be stopped just walking down the
street, only if they’re stopped for speeding, for example. I believe
everybody has the right to come here, but I think they have to be made legal
Although the respondents broadly agreed that the Arizona law would result in
racial profiling, overburden local and state law enforcement agencies and
decrease the willingness of illegal immigrants to report crimes for fear of
deportation, large majorities said it would reduce the number
immigrants in the state, deter illegal border crossings and, to a lesser
extent, reduce crime.
Some attitudes about immigration have remained stable among the public. Most
still say illegal immigrants weaken the nation’s economy rather than
strengthen it, and public opinion remains divided over how the United States
should handle illegal immigrants currently in the country.
But American attitudes toward the
law and whether illegal immigrants already
here should have a path to citizenship differed markedly across regions and
parties. Westerners and Northeasterners, for example, are significantly more
likely than those in other regions to say the recent law in Arizona goes too
far. And Democrats are much more likely than Republicans or independents to
support a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants now in the country.
Just 8 percent of Americans said the immigration system needed only
changes. The vast majority said it needed reworking, including 44 percent who
said it needed to be completely rebuilt and 45 percent who said it needed
Three quarters said that, over all, illegal immigrants were a drain on the
economy because they did not all pay taxes but used public services like
hospitals and schools. Nearly 2 in 10 said the immigrants strengthened the
economy by providing
low-cost labor and buying goods and services, a chief
argument among many of their advocates.
“I do think the federal government should deal with it, because illegal
immigrants don’t pay taxes and don’t contribute to our government,” said
Deborah Adams, 53, a Democrat from Ephrata, Pa., and a paramedic who called the
Arizona law a “necessary evil.”
“They take jobs from American citizens who need to work and pay into Social
Security,” Ms. Adams said.
In fact, many
illegal immigrants do pay taxes into the Social Security system,
but never see a return on their contributions.
At immigration rallies in several cities on Saturday, demonstrators pressed the
case for overhauling immigration law.
So far no bill has been introduced in Congress. President Obama, while
supportive of the idea of immigration reform, has questioned whether lawmakers
have the appetite for a divisive
battle over it after a year of other political
fights and in the middle of a campaign.
A delegation of Arizonans opposed to the law, including Mayor Phil Gordon of
Phoenix, plans to meet with Justice Department officials on Tuesday to urge
them to step into the brewing legal battle over the law.
On Monday, one of the law’s staunchest advocates, Sheriff Joe Arpaio of
Maricopa County in the Phoenix area, announced that after toying with the idea,
he would not run for governor.
Archibold reported from Los Angeles, and Megan Thee-Brennan from New
York. Marina Stefan contributed reporting from New York