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Like the High Court, American Public Divided on Immigration Law Like the High Court, American Public Divided on Immigration Law Like the High Court, American Public Divided on Immigration Law Like the High Court, Amer...

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The Next America - Statistics 2012 / Immigration

Like the High Court, American Public Divided on Immigration Law

photo of Doris Nhan
June 26, 2012

Various national polls taken at different times between 2010, when Arizona’s immigration bill was signed into law, and Monday’s Supreme Court ruling have shown the American public largely supporting the legislationl.

Shortly after Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signed S.B. 1070, Pew Research Center and Rasmussen Report polls found that the American public favored the much-debated bill.

The Arizona Republic is featuring a live poll that has been tracking public sentiment since April 18. As of Tuesday, about 56 percent of those who voted said they supported the bill.

Since the ruling, the paper added an additional two questions, looking at whether the public agreed with the Supreme Court’s decision. The public appears just as widely split as the Court’s ruling was: About 45 percent said they somewhat agreed with the outcome, while the next largest share, 29 percent, strongly disagreed.

Results from a CBS News/New York Times poll conducted between May 31 and June 3 found similar numbers: More than half of those polled found the law to be “about right;” the second-largest share, 33 percent, said the law went too far.

Opinion varied along typical party lines. About 82 percent of Republicans approved of Arizona’s bill overall, compared with 45 percent of Democrats, according to the 2010 Pew poll.

Splits also occurred by age. Younger Americans disagreed with the law at a higher rate than older Americans, Pew found. About 48 percent of those between 18 and 29 approved of the law, compared with 74 percent of those over 65.

Support for or opposition to immigration policies also often depended on which provision or requirement was in question.

For example, a May 2010 poll by the The Economist/YouGov found that 80 percent favored fines for employers who hired illegal immigrants, but less than 40 percent supported requiring churches to report illegal immigrants, and just over 40 percent supported barring young illegal immigrants from schools.

The 2010 Pew poll found similar results: Nearly three-quarters of Americans surveyed approved of a requirement for people to produce documents verifying legal status. That support dropped to 62 percent when considering whether to allow law enforcement to question anyone they thought was in the country illegally.

This split points to a key component in the debate over Arizona’s law, and in a larger sense, the complexity of immigration reform.

Four sections of Arizona’s immigration law were up for debate and the Supreme Court enjoined three on the grounds that the federal government’s role trumped state action. The “show me papers, please” provision--probably the most well-known--was the only section that the Court upheld, though with its own set of reservations.

The surviving provision allows law enforcement to check documentation during stops for other violations.

Civil-rights and immigration advocates say that the provision encourages racial profiling because it’s technically impossible for an officer to determine who is here illegally or not based on looks. State authorities have expressed their concern that upholding the new law will now open the door for civil-rights lawsuits.

The Supreme Court’s opinion left open the possibility that it would accept additional challenges on the legislation. It also recognized that the “show me papers, please” provision would have to be executed under the narrowest of conditions to avoid violating the Constitution.

For some, the high court’s decision was supposed to be the end chapter to this long debate. But the Court’s opinion, in a sense, recognized that the fight was not over. And with the American public so similarly split, it seems that the fight has just begun.

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