Northwesterners' Confused Views About Immigrants

Jeff Alworth

A public radio group recently sponsored a poll by Davis, Hibbitts & Midghall to survey Northwest residents on a variety of topics, including the economy, education funding, alternative fuels, immigration, and obesity. Today Oregon Public Broadcasting released findings from the survey. Many of the results are predictable, but a few stand out. Of most interest are the strangely mixed findings on immigration. The headline-making finding showed that there is broad support for Arizona's controversial new immigration law; in Oregon, 61% strongly or somewhat support it, along with 75% in Idaho, and 58% in Washington. (Pollsters didn't break the states down by region.) But in this case the headline misleads; voters may be in favor of Arizona's law, but that doesn't appear to mean they're particularly opposed to illegal immigrants.

As it turns out, respondents have a pretty confused idea about what the impact of illegal immigration really is. Pollsters started with a general question about whether illegal immigration was a problem where they live. Fewer than half said yes (45%, with ID-50%, OR-49%, and WA-43%). Moreover:

Undocumented immigrants work hard and don't cause disturbances
Agree: 60% (ID-58%, OR-57%, and WA-62%)

Most crimes in my area are committed by illegal immigrants
Agree: 25% (ID-33%, OR-31%, and WA-21%)

Undocumented immigrants are good people doing the best they can Agree: 73% (ID-66%, OR-69%, and WA-76%)

Yet despite have generally positive feelings about undocumented workers, as a matter of policy, respondents take a far harder line. A majority (57%) believe children born in the US to illegal immigrants (that is, US citizens) should be deported and a similar majority (58%) believe they shouldn't receive state services. And here's some final confusion. Although that same majority (59%) think undocumented workers lower wages or take jobs from legal workers, only 11% suspect they have failed to get a job because it was given to an illegal worker.

As a political matter, this complicates things for anyone who wants to try to gin up anti-immigrant sentiment. People appear to be generally in favor of tightening immigration laws, but they don't view the immigrants themselves as bad people. For those of us who are appalled by Arizona's law, the findings also show that such a thing isn't possible only in a border state. It could happen here.

There are a few other interesting findings unrelated to immigration, which I'll post below the jump.

The Northwest appears to be ahead of the curve in terms of approving alternative energy sources. Strong majorities approve of increasing hydroelectric power, wind, solar, biomass, wave, and geothermal energy sources. They strongly disapprove of coal (63%) and are split on nuclear (47% in favor, 43% opposed). But perhaps most impressively, respondents are willing to put their money behind alternative fuels:

Do you believe that government officials should make the development and manufacturing of alternative energy sources a top priority, even at the expense of other business opportunities?
Yes, 47% ( ID-48%, OR-47%, WA-46%)
No, 31% (ID-31%, OR-33%, WA-30%)

Unfortunately, when asked about the BP oil spill, respondents were less green. Asked to select between two statements, one identifying the spill as a "wake up call" to develop new energy sources and one to essentially continue as we are, they were exactly split 48% to 48%.

The findings for the entire poll can be found here (.pdf). As always, I welcome your thoughts and interpretations.

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    I have seen similar results about the Arizona law in other polls. What I haven't seen is a pollster asking the question: "Do you favor a law that allows the police to arrest anyone who cannot immediately prove that they are a legal resident or citizen of the U.S." I wonder how well that would poll?

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      Worse, but I think it would actually pervert the findings. All the polling I've seen on the Arizona law confirms that it's actually popular. Why it's popular and what that says about the people who support it is another matter.

      But I think it is popular, and I'm worried we'll see it on the ballot soon.

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        Why would seeing something like that on our ballot concern you jeff? A far more draconian version is already federal law and has been for a very long time. Under federal law no prior lawful contact is necessary ...

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    Most people when polled actually oppose the first amendment if it means the Neo-Nazis or the Klan can march in public.

    Of course most people don't really think through the implications of draconian policy and the unintended consequence.

    Poll people and ask them if they favor a law that would make their neighbor down the street who is an undocumented immigrant not call or talk to the cops if they saw someone breaking into your home because the cops might just as easily arrest them for being here illegally under AZ-style laws.

    Myopia on public policy is nothing new, particularly on issues like this one which is so easy to demagogue over.

    The President is right on this one. Nothing will be effective or change until there is comprehensive immigration reform. Until then, reactions to a broken immigration system in the form of crap laws like AZ's, are a failed "solution" that is worse than the problem it purports to try and address.

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      I am curious what you think about the most recent assault on the first amendment Mitchell...The Disclose Act? The Act where the Democrats are essentially either selling or at a minimum passing final judgment on who's opinions get to be heard based upon whether or not you are with them or against them? In my opinion the 1st amendment is the 1st amendment no matter who it applies too or what they intend to say ... There is a reason the drafters of the constitution made it first. It made me sad when I heard Nancy Pelosi stand up and say that this ridiculous and overtly unconstitutional pathetic attempt to give themselves an advantage for the midterm elections...would .."provide some much needed transparency to the democratic process" why sad? Sad because somewhere there is probably someone who might believe her. What do you think of the disclose act? anybody?

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    I'd like to believe that most who affix the progressive label to their sleeves are also able to comprehend the fatal flaws with our current immigration system and border security. However, all the talk of more regulation and enforcement falls strangely silent when this particular topic is broached. Then it's all about racism and rich fat cats. There's some truth to both but other large slices of pie remain.

    Clearly immigration reform is needed but what does that mean to you? If it entails blanket amnesty to several million people who entered the country illegally then count me out. No borders? No thanks.

    On a personal note, I have tremendous respect for those who go through the legal immigration process. Seems like a real pain in the ass. Frankly I cannot understand why some of my Hispanic friends go through all the trouble when most of their peers manage to bypass the whole process so easily. I know one guy in particular, a native Mexican who got his green card in the early 90's and was finally granted citizenship in late 2008. He's been trying to get his wife & young son here since with no end in sight. Gotta tip my hat to him for going about it "the right way" yet it's rather maddening trying to walk a mile in his shoes. Meanwhile, many of his friends took the illegal route and are being rewarded for it. I'll even go along with "most are only looking to do an honest days work and feed their families", "most" meaning greater than 50%. But, with an open-door policy and an unchecked number of entrants you're going to get far more undesirables than you want in the mix. That's a huge problem and skin color matters not.

    To me immigration reform means streamlining the legit immigration process, going zero-tolerance on illegals and punishing the employers who hire them. It's not about brown people, just sensible regulation & enforcement. Just sayin'.

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      So, Brian, does sensible regulation and enforcement entail a national ID card and enforcement of employment laws? The idea that we can stop illegal immigration with a leak proof border or coast is absurd, in my view. But if an illegal can't get a job, the illegal immigration problem is solved.

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        Exactly. Sensible reforms such as a path to legal status, criminal background check, back fines, etc. have been put forward by many people, progressive and centrist alike. Coupled with a temporary 6 month worker visas, etc. have been on the table for years form progressives.

        I'm not sure why Brian seems to think otherwise.

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        Iink we could do a pretty decent job of closing down out borders but ultimately I agree with you Bill. Here is a question/statement of a comment cameron jordan made on a facebook thread on this exact topic. You will notice that she was directing the question to Jack Roberts ,... she posed a legitimate question ...

        "With all of Oregon's current problems... budget shortfalls... programs having to be cut and cut and cut again... double digit unemployment (if the real number were known it would shock everyone) ... Dave Hunt having to put on his gunnysack, grab his tin cup and cardboard sign to fly to Washington DC to beg for the federal government to bail us out... Ted, wringing his hands asking himself "special session or no special session" ... one in five people buying their groceries with government money.... and all of the accompanying stories of personal suffering we hear every day.... WHY won't the leadership here in Oregon at least take advantage of the one, simple, immediate opportunity they have to have an impact on all of this human tragedy??

        We don't need a special session, we need a few "profiles in courage" and leadership and a governor who is willing to take 15 minutes out of his day to issue the following announcement to Oregonians:

        "Effective August 1, 2010 state of Oregon will begin an aggressive program to enforce the immigration and right to work laws of this state and country. Any employer identified after this date, employing any person who does not possess the proper legal ability to work in this state will be fined $5000 for each undocumented worker and a $1000 fine for each day the employment continues."

        Jack there has to be at least 100,000 to 150,000 undocumented workers currently employed in this state. The jobs they are currently performing belong to the legal citizens of this state. Why won't the state at least make this painless and self enforcing affirmative gesture for its suffering and frustrated citizens? When a legal worker is employed in place of the illegal worker... Everyone benefits! Tax revenues start getting paid... wage rates increase... unemployment goes down... dependence on social services is reduced... not to mention the secondary and tertiary impacts on our crime rate, jails, schools, hospitals, and drug problems. In a state run by unions ...where the mere thought of a person working without a union membership card in far too many jobs sends thousands of people into fits of psychotic rage... but the fact that there are over 100,000 people working in this state with no legal right to be here working is a nonstarter with our current leadership who would prefer that everyone else suffer instead of having the political courage to do what's right for the other 2 million people who live here?? Please feel free to go into as much detail as you need because I just don't get it"


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      Brian, I think you're attributing to the issue clarity it lacks. If you want to cast this as a moral/ethical issue, fair enough. Let's consider that the outcome. But it leaves the question: what do we do now with the thousands of undocumented immigrants caught in the gray area of legality after decades of a wink-and-nod policy that encouraged them to come here, work cheaply, and raise families?

      There's ethics on both sides. A prudent policy gets us to a clear, black-and-white endpoint, but concedes that there's going to have to be some give and take with the folks already here.

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    I'm still wondering how a law like Arizona's is supposed to be enforced, given that we do not require people to carry proof of citizenship on their person.

    Furthermore, there is no single document that all Americans have that proves citizenship.

    Passports and drivers' licenses are voluntary and optional. Many, many Americans do not have access to their birth certificates - or were never issued one in the first place.

    (Remember: until the middle of the 20th century, it was common practice to NOT issue a birth certificate to African-American children in some parts of this country.)

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      Kari, you're introducing a fact based discussion here. It seems to be utterly absent in the public forum. If there is no universal document proving citizenship then anyone can be hauled off to jail in Arizona in the absence of such.(And there have been instances of such. In one case a guy was held for two days while local and federal authorities tried to ascertain whether he was a citizen.) And probably cause can only be "driving while brown." That's why I am an advocate of a serious national ID card. Other countries have them. Biomarkers can be used to encrypt them and make them secure. The whole idea of "sealing borders" is utterly absurd and impossible. Are we going to seal off our northern and southern border, and thousands of miles of coastline? There are only two ways to address illegal immigration, a national ID card, and enforcement of employment laws. But there is no serious discussion of either.

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        Actually Bill and kari as much as a much more open ended version of this law has been in the federal statutes for a very long time it doesn't appear to be a problem. No one does the national discussion of this matter any favors when they purposely misrepresent what this law does and does not do and what law enforcement can and cannot do. My feeling is the people who will be getting grilled about their immigration status (or not) will have no english language skills and once detained will be more than anxious to confess so they don't delay the deportation exercise and they can hurry up and try to sneak back in as soon as possible. I find it odd that people are willing to spend so much time imagining ways this law can be abused when there have been no documented instances of abuse of this laws federal counterpart (thi could find)...

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    'It's not about brown people, just sensible regulation & enforcement.'

    Of course it is. In practical terms a "zero-tolerance" policy against illegals" is going to impact white folks, legal residents or not, very little, while it will impact all brown folks in varying degrees from general inconvenience to out-right draconian. Do you honestly think you'll get pulled over in routine stops to check your immigration status? Of course not.

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    Too true. The only white people who routinely get pulled over for no apparent reason are poor white guys in ratty vehicles.

    These guys are profiled as fiercely as brown people, but are not at risk of immediate deportation. Kinda in a similar category to the AA Ph.D. that wrote the article in the Oregonian last Sunday.

    I experienced this sort of profiling for several years in my youth.

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    "So, Brian, does sensible regulation and enforcement entail a national ID card and enforcement of employment laws?"

    Don't believe a mandatory federally issued ID is necessarily the way to go even though we're already there for all intents & purposes. Of course existing employment laws should be enforced. How bout requiring employers to use E-Verify for starters?

    "But it leaves the question: what do we do now with the thousands of undocumented immigrants caught in the gray area of legality after decades of a wink-and-nod policy that encouraged them to come here, work cheaply, and raise families?"

    Thousands or several million? IMO, there's no feasible method of deporting all who entered illegally but we can stop winking & nodding. A path to citizenship has to be part of that as well. Agreeing on criteria and instituting such a plan will be a major challenge but it must get done.

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      Brian, what do you mean "we are already" there as far as a national ID? Kari states above, quite correctly, that we don't have a reliable, valid, ID that proves citizenship.

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      That isn't a "gray area of legallity" they are either here legally or they are not...there are no squatter exceptions

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    Got an SSN Bill? Birth certificate? Drivers license? Passport? IRS record? Credit history? All of this data is inextricably linked. How difficult would it be to have reliable, valid ID that proves citizenship?

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      There are many citizens who don;t have their birth certificate. Most Americans citizens never get a passport, DLs do not require citizenship, nor does an SSN, which BTW are all easily forged as well. IRS records prove nothing other than you were employed and your employer reported paying you wages or payment for work (1099 income), and in no way proves citizenship.

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    ...and if you're a foreign national here legally you'll have a green card or visa.

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    exactlty Brian and it says right on it that the possessor is required to carry it with him/her at all times

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    I was also really bothered by Obama's statements to Senator Kyl of AZ where he told him that he isn't going to protect our borders until he can find a way to get an amnesty passed because if he solved that problem now then there would be no support for his amnesty (Cloward-Piven strategy)

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