A Texan viewpoint
When it comes to the highly inflamed issue of immigration, Americans hold complex and seemingly contradictory views. On one hand, a clear majority of Americans in numerous polls — including Texans — support Arizona’s tough new law, which would require police officers to ask suspected illegal immigrants for identification.
A Gallup Poll released earlier this month shows just 33 percent of the public approve of the Obama administration’s lawsuit attempt to have the law nullified, while 50 percent disagree with it.
But it’s more complicated than that. A whopping 82 percent of people who support the Arizona law also support comprehensive national immigration reform that includes a path for current illegal immigrants to become citizens, according to a bipartisan poll conducted in June by Lake Research Partners, a Democratic firm, and Public Opinion Strategies, a group of Republican pollsters.
“It seems inconsistent,” concedes David Mermin, a partner at Lake Research Partners. “But what’s consistent is a desire for action.”
The common thread running through public opinion on immigration is anger: anger at the federal government for failing to enforce immigration laws, anger at businesses for hiring illegal immigrants, anger at landlords for renting to them and anger at Congress for inaction.
And while most Americans favor a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants who pay a fine and otherwise obey the law, 59 percent of voters say the government should secure the United States’ southern border before addressing reform legislation, a Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll in late June found.
Scott Rasmussen, whose polling firm has conducted numerous polls on immigration-related issues, said those numbers reflect people’s displeasure with Washington.
“Of people who are angry about immigration, over 80 percent are angry at the federal government,” said Rasmussen, president of Rasmussen Reports.
Texans want action
Texans strongly favor action from the U.S. military: 69 percent say American troops should be used along the Mexican border to prevent illegal immigration, according to a Rasmussen Reports poll conducted June 16.
That hasn’t happened. The Obama administration has approved sending 1,200 National Guard troops to the southern border, with 250 to be stationed along Texas’ 1,250-mile share of it.
In the absence of an aggressive federal response, voters across the country are inclined to accept state action. When the Lake/Public Opinion poll asked supporters of the Arizona law why they supported it, 52 percent gave as their reason, “the state took action because the federal government has failed to solve the problem.”
Rasmussen found that 59 percent of Texans would favor an Arizona-style enforcement measure.
Mermin says inaction in Washington is becoming a contentious point for voters. “There’s a lot of things people are frustrated with – the economy, BP,” he said. “(Immigration) feels like another unsolved problem we haven’t been able to deal with effectively.”
Anger at employers
But the anger doesn’t end there. Rasmussen said that most Americans are more upset with people who profit from illegal immigration than with the immigrants themselves. Seventy percent of Americans support strict government action against employers who hire illegal immigrants, a Rasmussen poll published June 4 found.
“People would like to see people who hire them face sanctions,” said Rasmussen. “They’d like to see the politicians that protect them face sanctions, [and] they’d like to see landlords who provide housing face sanctions.”
The public frustration is reflected in the meager 39 percent approval rating for President Obama’s handling of immigration, according to a Washington Post poll last month.
Obama called for comprehensive immigration reform in a speech last week, but with other divisive legislative issues on Congress’ plate, movement on immigration is unlikely any time soon.
As a result of the repeated delays, said Rasmussen, people increasingly don’t see Washington as a viable agent for change on immigration. “There is a huge distrust of Washington when it comes to immigration,” said Rasmussen. “Overwhelmingly, (Arizonans) prefer the Arizona officials over Washington officials.”