Tuesday, May 04, 2010

SB 1070

The new immigration law in Arizona isn't front-page news any more but the topic still has some traction. Most news articles and opinion pieces oppose the measure and it might seem safe to conclude that the law was a marginal bit of legislative extremism. When today I saw a headline saying opinion polls show broad support for tough Arizona immigration law I began to wonder, first, what questions the pollsters asked and, second, what the law actually says.

Unfortunately, it seems to be in the nature of reporters, bloggers, op-ed writers, and the like to isolate what's interesting in an issue and not tax the reader's patience by explaining at length ("first simplify, then exaggerate" is the extreme of this tendency). For this reason I didn't expect to find links to the poll methodologies and actual questionnaires nor to the text of the law. So far as the law text goes, my expectation was accurate. It's not hard to find the text, but you won't find the link in news sources. The polls were a little easier to track down. Only one source (CBS news) linked to both methodology and questionnaire, but others gave links to one or the other, or, at the least, the name of the organization that actually carried out the polling.

I've read about four polls.

A. Here's the first I located.

Nationally, 60% Favor Letting Local Police Stop and Verify Immigration Status

The relevant questions in this survey are these:
1. Do you favor or oppose legislation that authorizes local police to stop and verify the immigration status of anyone they suspect of being an illegal immigrant?

60% Favor
31% Oppose
10% Not sure

2. How concerned are you that efforts to identify and deport illegal immigrants will also end up violating the civil rights of some U.S. citizens?

29% Very concerned
29% Somewhat concerned
31% Not very concerned
8% Not at all concerned
3% Not sure

NOTE: Margin of Sampling Error, +/- 3 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence

-- source: National Survey of 1,000 Likely Voters Conducted April 22-23, 2010 By Rasmussen Reports
B. The second poll I located was sponsored by the New York Times and CBS News. Here's the NYT headline and a graphic:

Poll Shows Most in U.S. Want Overhaul of Immigration Laws

Here's the CBS News headline and their graphic:

Poll: Majority Backs Arizona Immigration Bill

Here are the relevant questions in this survey:

q67 As you may know, the state of Arizona recently passed a law that 
gives the police the power to question anyone they suspect is in the
country illegally, requires people to produce documents verifying
their status if asked, and allows officers to detain anyone who
cannot do so. Do you think this law goes too far in dealing with the
issue of illegal immigration, doesn't go far enough,
or is it about right?

Numbers are percentages

Total Rep Dem Ind
Too far 36 21 49 34
Not far enough 9 9 9 10
About right 51 67 38 51
DK/NA 4 3 4 5

q68 How likely do you think it is that the new law in Arizona will
lead to police officers detaining people of certain racial or ethnic
groups more frequently than other racial or ethnic groups? Do you
think that is very likely to happen, somewhat likely, not too likely
or not at all likely to happen?

Very likely 50 32 63 51
Somewhat likely 32 46 29 25
Not too likely 11 17 5 13
Not at all likely 4 3 2 7
DK/NA 3 2 1 4

q69 How likely do you think it is that the new law in Arizona will
deter immigrants from reporting crime or cooperating with authorities
out of fear of being deported?
Do you think that is very likely to happen, somewhat likely, not too
likely or not at all likely to happen?

Very likely 55 44 62 57
Somewhat likely 25 32 25 21
Not too likely 10 15 9 9
Not at all likely 5 6 3 7
DK/NA 5 3 1 6

q70 How likely do you think it is that the new law in Arizona will
burden the resources of state and local police departments? Do you
think that is very likely to happen, somewhat likely, not too likely
or not at all likely to happen?

Very likely 34 24 47 29
Somewhat likely 44 49 39 44
Not too likely 13 18 8 14
Not at all likely 6 7 4 8
DK/NA 3 2 2 5

q71 How likely do you think it is that the new law in Arizona will
lead to a reduction in the number of illegal immigrants currently in
Arizona? Do you think that is very likely to happen, somewhat likely,
not too likely or not at all likely to happen?

Very likely 29 38 25 26
Somewhat likely 43 43 42 43
Not too likely 16 15 20 15
Not at all likely 7 3 8 9
DK/NA 5 1 5 7

q72 How likely do you think it is that the new law in Arizona will
deter people from other countries from illegally crossing the border
into Arizona? Do you think that is very likely to happen, somewhat
likely, not too likely or not at all likely to happen?

Very likely 29 30 23 33
Somewhat likely 40 43 44 36
Not too likely 18 19 18 17
Not at all likely 8 6 9 9
DK/NA 5 2 6 5

q73 How likely do you think it is that the new law in Arizona will
reduce crime in that state? Do you think that is very likely to
happen, somewhat likely, not too likely or not at all likely to

Very likely 19 24 18 16
Somewhat likely 35 41 32 34
Not too likely 25 21 28 26
Not at all likely 15 11 18 15
DK/NA 6 3 4 9

Sample sizes:
Total Respondents 1079
Total Republicans 320 Total Democrats 380 Total Independents 379
This poll has been criticised for "slant" but I haven't seen a criticism of all the "how likely do think it is" questions. I know I'd have to say "don't know" to most, maybe all of them and wonder why the DK/NA totals are so small. From the huge ideological splits shown in peoples' response to these expectation-type questions, I suspect people are being guided by what they're reading and hearing in opinion-based sources. This is fair enough, but suggests to me that, since — if I'm right — they're just reflecting the views of others, the responses don't have much value.

C. The third is a Gallup poll: More Americans Favor Than Oppose Arizona Immigration Law. It asked whether people favored or opposed the law and then whether they thought they knew much about it.

D. The last is an online poll conducted by an online polling organizaton: Polls & Research Archive Search Advanced Search Americans Support Arizona Immigration Bill April 29, 2010. Here's what it asked.

As you may know, the Arizona Senate recently passed an immigration bill. Would you support enacting each one of these regulations included in the Arizona immigration bill in your own state?
  Support Oppose Not sure
Making it a crime to transport someone who is an illegal immigrant 76% 18% 6%
Requiring state and local police to determine the status of a person if there is "reasonable suspicion" that they are illegal immigrants 71% 22% 7%
Arresting people who are unable to provide documentation to prove they are in the U.S. legally 71% 23% 6%
Making it a crime to hire day labourers off the street 53% 39% 8%
As to the Arizona law itself, only one legal blog entry provided a link to its text. You can find it here:
SENATE BILL 1070 (pdf)
State of Arizona
Forty-ninth Legislature
Second Regular Session

You might expect to find dozens of pages of legal garbage in fine print, but it's actually short and in ordinary English.

There are some amendments that are summarized here: Proposed Amendments to Arizona Immigration Law SB 1070. They seek to remove potential conflict between provisions of the law and rights guaranteed by the federal goverment.

If you read the law, you can see how large numbers of Americans might answer pollsters' questions by saying they believe police officers, having made "lawful contact" with a person, should make reasonable attempt, when practicable, to verify the immigration status of that person in cases the officers suspect the person is "unlawfully present in the United States." It's also not surprising that most of these same Americans would say they worry that the police might abuse this authority and single out people of a certain appearance and thus violate their civil rights.

Two quotes in a news report put what I'm saying in other words: (1) "The majority of Americans are not anti-immigrant, pro-illegals, or in favor of a police state. Instead, they want government to uphold the rule of law, and they want America to continue to be a country that stands by its long heritage of welcoming those, as the inscription on the Statute of Liberty reads, who are 'yearning to breathe free.' The real story is that." (2) "The deeper questions are whether people are OK with citizens and legal residents being stopped by police and asked to prove their status, and how far police can go to creating the reasonable suspicion." The first quote comes from Lara Brown, a political scientist at Villanova University. The second one is from Ben Johnson, director of the American Immigration Council.

These points of view emerge from yet another poll. USA Today is reporting on a fifth poll which it sponsored with Gallup. I haven't found a report of this one on the Gallup site nor found a copy of the questionnaire. The article says almost 70% of Americans want to stop illegal immigrants from entering the country; yet even more "are somewhat or very concerned that tougher immigration laws would lead to harassment of Hispanics." About 80% say that illegal immigrants are a big drag on the economy, burdening schools, driving down wages, and the like; yet almost the same number "are concerned that stricter laws would mean illegal immigrants and their families who have lived productively in the United States for years would be forced to leave."

So the headline I saw about broad national support for Arizona's restrictive legislation isn't — shouldn't be — entirely dis-heartening. However, in digging further into the subject, I did find something that frightened me. The report on the Rasmussen survey gave some background information on attitudes toward illegal immigration and closed with a paragraph saying that Arizona voters strongly support Joe Arpaio and his Wild West approach to his job as — in his words — "America's Toughest Sheriff." It says "on a personal basis, Arpaio is viewed favorably by 68% of Arizona voters." If you haven't been reading about this guy, I recommend you do so.

The Rasmussen analyst also gives some useful background on the Arizona law:
The new survey results are consistent with findings conducted over many years. Three-out-of-four voters believe that the federal government is not doing enough to secure the nation’s borders. In fact, 56% believe that the policies of the federal government encourage illegal immigration. Among voters who are angry about immigration, 83% are angry at the federal government. Only 12% direct their anger at the immigrants

The biggest point of disconnect between voters and the conventional wisdom in Washington, D.C. has to do with priorities. Almost always in Washington, the debate begins with a focus on how to address the status of illegal immigrants. To voters, that is a secondary concern. Controlling the borders is the top concern. That hasn’t changed since the 2006 immigration legislation collapsed when the U.S. Senate surrendered to public opinion. During that debate, a New York Times/CBS poll found that 69% believed illegal immigrants should be prosecuted and deported.

Other surveys have found that 73% of voters want cops to check the immigration status of all offenders during traffic stops. Sixty-seven percent (67%) also say that if law enforcement officers know of places where immigrants gather to find work, they should sometimes conduct surprise raids to identify and deport those who are here illegally.

Sixty-eight percent (68%) of voters nationwide say that those who knowingly hire illegal immigrants should be punished. By a 48% to 36% margin, voters say the same about landlords who rent to illegal immigrants. Additionally, 77% of voters nationwide oppose drivers’ licenses for undocumented immigrants. That topic tripped up Hillary Clinton in a debate during the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Joe Arpaio, the sheriff of Maricopa County in Arizona, created a national controversy by aggressively enforcing national immigration laws. While his efforts prompted a U.S. Justice Department civil rights investigation, the sheriff remains popular in his home state. Most Arizona voters not only support his policies, but 58% say he has been good for the state’s image. On a personal basis, Arpaio is viewed favorably by 68% of Arizona voters.

{Chain-gang prisoners associated with one of Joe Arpaio's programs; source: AP}

{source: citizensrequired.com}

Some additional sources:

Meet Sheriff Joe Arpaio

Poll: Most in U.S. want better border control; But many fear Latinos may be harassed under tough laws

Arizona Immigration Law SB 1070

Factual Legal Question about Arizona Immigration Law

Arizona immigration law revised: backtracking or fine-tuning?

Sense and nonsense on Arizona law

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