June 17, 2010 -- Most Americans back tougher measures against illegal immigrants, including a controversial new Arizona law – but also a path to citizenship for those here now. Both approaches address the public's longstanding concern: not that they're immigrants, but illegal ones.
Nearly six in 10 in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll favor a much-debated law in Arizona giving police the power to ask people they've stopped to verify their residency status. There is room for pushback, though, in that fewer, 46 percent, think the states should have power to make and enforce their own immigration laws, one criticism of the Arizona statute.
In addition to support for the law, Americans overwhelmingly continue to say the country's not doing enough to keep illegal newcomers out of this country, and to favor use of National Guard troops in border control.
At the same time, 57 percent support giving illegal immigrants now living in the United States the right to live here legally if they pay a fine and meet other requirements.
Arizona's law is to take effect July 29, despite the threat of a challenge from the U.S. Justice Department, suggestions it could lead to racial profiling and opposition from some police chiefs, including those in Phoenix and Tucson, who've said it could divert police resources and dissuade illegal immigrants from cooperating with investigations.
Plug the Hole
Arizona's governor, Jan Brewer, has said the state was forced to act given the federal government's failure to stanch illegal immigration. That resonates: Americans share broad, deep and persistent dissatisfaction with the federal effort, and it relates to their views on the Arizona law.
Seventy-five percent in this poll say the United States is not doing enough to keep illegal immigrants out of the country; 58 percent feel that way strongly. Both numbers have been at about at these levels in ABC/Post polls back more than five years.
Support for the Arizona law peaks, at 74 percent, among people who feel strongly that the United States isn't doing enough to stop illegal immigration. Among people who feel that way, but not strongly, just 41 percent support the Arizona measure, and support drops to 31 percent among those who think the United States is doing enough.
Also signaling the desire for better border control, 83 percent support using National Guard troops, up from 74 percent in May 2006. The increase is fueled by greater backing from liberals; their support for sending the Guard to the Mexican border has swelled from 51 percent five years ago to 72 percent today.
President Obama ordered 1,200 National Guard troops to the border in Arizona late last month. White House officials said the objective was to stem Mexican drug violence along the border, not a response to the Arizona immigration law, though they acknowledged the Guard presence likely would reduce the flow of illegals.
Support for the Arizona law is more than twice as high among whites (68 percent) as among non-whites (31 percent), and increases with age, to two-thirds of Americans over 50. It's far more popular among Republicans and conservatives than Democrats and liberals, from a low of 30 percent among liberal Democrats to a high of 83 percent among conservative Republicans.
In the center, 61 percent of independents and 56 percent of moderates are in favor. The ABC/Post question noted some of the prominent pro and con arguments on the law -- supporters say it will help crack down on illegal immigration, while opponents say it could violate civil rights and lead to racial profiling.
The poll separately measured the issue of jurisdiction. As noted, there's a split: Fifty-two percent say immigration enforcement should be left solely to the federal government, while 46 percent say states should be allowed to make and enforce their own immigration laws. Support for Arizona's law is more than 30 points higher among people who favor state jurisdiction.
Amnesty for Illegal Immigrants
At the same time, as noted, 57 percent support giving illegal immigrants living in the United States a chance to earn citizenship. That includes 66 percent of Democrats, 56 percent of independents and 49 percent of Republicans, and, in ideological groups, 68 percent of liberals, 63 percent of moderates and 46 percent of conservatives.
Perhaps surprisingly, half of those who view the Tea Party favorably and 44 percent who feel "angry" about the federal government nevertheless support giving illegal immigrants a way to become legal. Two-thirds of non-whites and 54 percent of whites support an amnesty plan. Women are more favorably inclined than men, by 8 points. And two-thirds of people under age 30 support it, compared with half of those 65 and older.
More people disapprove than approve of Obama's handling of immigration, 51-39 percent. Both ratings have increased from a Washington Post poll in March -- disapproval up by 8 points, approval up by 6 -- with fewer people expressing no opinion.
In April 2009, when Obama's ratings in general were far higher, 48 percent approved of his handling of immigration issues, while 35 percent disapproved. In context, Obama's rating on immigration issues matches his 39 percent approval for the federal budget deficit (there, 56 percent disapprove) and is lower than his scores for handling the Gulf oil spill, the economy and his job overall, at 44, 50 and 52 percent, respectively.
This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone June 3-6, 2010, among a random national sample of 1,004 adults, including landline and cell phone-only respondents. Results for the full sample have a 3.5-point error margin.
Sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, Pa. Analysis by Mike Mokrzycki. ABC News polls can be found here.