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Voters Support Strong Policy on Immigrants

By Sean Olson
Copyright © 2010 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writer

          New Mexico voters like the city of Albuquerque's new policy of checking immigrant status of anyone arrested — by a wide margin — and strongly disapprove of the state's policy of giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants.
        A majority of voters in a new Journal Poll also gave a thumbs-up to Arizona's new immigration law, which has been denounced by the Obama administration, Gov. Bill Richardson and others.
        Hispanic voters agreed with the majority on the state's driver's license policy and the city's immigration check policy. They had a different view on the Arizona law, but even that had 39 percent support.
        Gabriel R. Sanchez, an assistant professor of political science at the University of New Mexico, said that New Mexicans do not favor the Arizona law as much as the rest of the country, but that the state's voters are becoming more and more disenchanted with illegal immigrants.
        He said that historically, the United States often becomes more concerned — and angry — with immigrant populations during times of economic turmoil.
        "The elephant in the room is that, I guarantee you, if you ran this survey two years ago, before the economy went downhill, you would get very different results," Sanchez said.
        Albuquerque's policy, which requires that immigration status be checked for all people who are booked into jail, was extremely popular, with 84 percent saying they favored it. Twelve percent opposed it, 2 percent had mixed feelings, and 2 percent didn't know or wouldn't say.
        "The deeper a person has entered the criminal justice system, the more palatable it seems to be among voters to allow police to check their immigration status," said pollster Brian Sanderoff, president of Research and Polling Inc., which conducted the Journal Poll.
        Seventy-two percent of voters polled opposed New Mexico's driver's license law. Twenty percent favored the law, 6 percent had mixed feelings and 2 percent didn't know or wouldn't say.
        Sanderoff said the driver's license law is especially hard for some people to swallow.
        "I think it hits people in the gut," he said. "The issuance of a driver's license by state government may imply a certain level of recognition or legal status that some feel should not be afforded to individuals who are not here legally."
        Views on voters
        Marcela Diaz, director of the immigrant rights group Somos un Pueblo Unido, said the Journal Poll findings show that people are upset with the status quo of U.S. law, but don't give a very good idea of people's sentiments toward illegal immigrants.
        Diaz speculated that many of those who agree with Arizona's law, for example, would most likely be happy to have a federal policy allowing illegal immigrants who have committed no other crimes to work legally in the United States.
        "I think this really shows the frustration with a federal government that refuses to do anything," Diaz said. "What (people) really want is our politicians to buckle down and come up with policies, common sense policies."
        Tea Party supporter Linda Merrell said the majorities supporting the Arizona law and Albuquerque's policy mirror the thoughts of many Americans who are concerned with the country's safety and economic security.
        Merrell said those concerns don't mean people aren't compassionate, and she said she, for instance, would support a guest worker program among other federal reforms.
        "I think people care about it deeply; they are concerned with the violence and the uptick in crime," Merrell said. "But I also think people are getting very, very concerned at just how affordable the open border is going to be for us, because the economy is awful."
        Complex findings
        The Journal Poll poll found that 79 percent of Hispanic voters supported the city of Albuquerque's immigration-check policy, while 67 percent opposed the state's driver's license law.
        More of the Hispanics opposed the Arizona law than supported it — 48 percent to 39 percent.
        "Some people would assume that Hispanics would just oppose it because of allegations of racial profiling," Sanderoff said, adding that native New Mexico Hispanics, with long-running family histories in the state, often aren't sympathetic to immigrants.
        "Many native Hispanics resent people trying to lump them all into one category," he also said.
        Sanchez said that people do not realize that just as many Hispanics are conservative as liberal across the country, so "it's not all that surprising" to see a large number of Hispanics supporting Albuquerque's policy and opposing the state driver's license law.
        He said he expected less support for the Arizona law because it has been framed by critics as "anti-Latino."
        Anglo voters were more likely than Hispanic voters to support the Arizona law and the Albuquerque policy. Anglo voters also were more likely than Hispanics to oppose New Mexico's driver's license law for illegal immigrants — 76 percent to 67 percent.
        Republicans were more likely than Democrats to support the Arizona law and Albuquerque policy, and to oppose the New Mexico driver's license law.
        However, 78 percent of Democrats supported the Albuquerque policy and 63 percent opposed the driver's license law. Half of the Democrats opposed the Arizona law, and 35 percent supported it.
        Albuquerque resident Donna Crawford, a conservative who agrees with the Arizona law, said she hopes lawmakers will follow the will of New Mexico voters.
        "I certainly would hope that New Mexico would join in the Arizona law," Crawford said. "I don't understand what's wrong with this state."
        Ralph Arellanes, director of the New Mexico chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said the results show that people have been influenced by a huge amount of slanted news coverage on illegal immigration and don't have all the facts about the issues, especially the Arizona law.
        "They don't understand the ramifications of this bill," Arellanes said. "And because it only applies to Hispanics, they don't really give a damn."
        The Journal Poll on immigration questions is based on telephone interviews with a scientific sample of 403 proven New Mexico voters who said they are likely to vote in the Nov. 2 general election.
        For all categories of voters — such as party members, Anglos and Hispanics — the numbers of voters polled are proportionate to their numbers among likely voters for the New Mexico general election on Nov. 2
        The telephone interviews were conducted statewide Aug. 23-27 by Research and Polling Inc. of Albuquerque.
        The margin of error for the full, statewide sample of voters is plus or minus 5 percentage points. The margin of error grows for subsamples.
        Poll respondents were asked three questions:
        • "Based on what you know, do you favor or oppose Arizona's new immigration law?"
        • "New Mexico state law allows driver's licenses to be issued to foreign nationals, including illegal immigrants. Supporters say this law reduces the numbers of uninsured drivers while opponents say it encourages more illegal immigrants to come to New Mexico. Do you favor or oppose this law?"
        • "Do you favor or oppose the city of Albuquerque's policy that requires all people who are booked into jail to be checked for their immigration status?"

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