Arizona’s anti-immigrant law highlights need for reform

Most Americans want immediate action on comprehensive immigration reform, new polling data revealed this week. A poll conducted by Lake Research Partners and Public Opinion Strategies found that more than three in four Americans from both major parties and in all geographic regions of the country support immigration reform.

After passage of Arizona’s immigration law, which experts believe will promote racial profiling and overwhelm local police forces, many commentators have insisted that Americans are not in the mood for comprehensive immigration reform.

The results of this survey, however, showed that most people view the Arizona law as an unfortunate reaction to federal inaction on reform. Instead of a punitive or enforcement-only response to immigration on the state or local level, Americans, including a significant majority of Latinos, want comprehensive federal action with four basic parts:

1) Increased security at the border;

2) Crack down on employers who knowingly hire unauthorized workers;

3) Require unauthorized workers to register, undergo background checks and learn English;

4) Unauthorized immigrants should get in line for citizenship.

The poll found that of the people who support the Arizona law, most were likely to be white, male, Republican and supporters of the tea party. Others, however, who did not fit these categories say they support the law only out of frustration with the lack of federal action on comprehensive reform.

Opponents of the Arizona law said they believe the law will promote racial profiling and other un-Constitutional police measures, the survey found.

David Mermin, a pollster with Lake Research, explained “the sense that the system is out of control and that there isn’t a legal orderly process by which people are immigrating” drives most attitudes about immigration reform.

“The vast majority of Americans think we should still be welcoming immigrants,” he said, “but they want that done in a legal way.”

“Folks don’t want some sort of draconian enforcement effort where you try to round up millions of people,” Mermin added, “they want people to register, to get in line, to pay taxes, to learn English, to become American.”

“You see enormous support for that approach to dealing with immigrants,” he explained.

According to recent analysis published by the Immigration Policy Center, the economic contributions of undocumented immigrants far outweigh perceived costs of illegal immigration. According to that pro-immigration reform group, in the state of Arizona alone, unauthorized immigrants add some $26.4 billion each year to the state’s economy annually, including tax revenues and job-creating business activity.

Economists also believe that claims that immigrants “steal” jobs in America from citizens remain unsubstantiated.

Frank Sharry, executive director of the pro-immigration reform group America’s Voice, added that the polling data proves that “people aren’t angry at immigrants as much as they are frustrated that the government hasn’t solved the problem.”

He warned that Congress should not use the fallout from the Arizona immigration law as an excuse not to tackle comprehensive immigration reform. The polling data indicates that most people much prefer immediate action on comprehensive immigration reform over the kinds of steps taken by Arizona.

The labor movement has explicitly rejected the Arizona anti-immigrant law. Describing the law as a violation of civil rights and the legalization of racial profiling, the AFL-CIO and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights earlier this month jointly called on the Obama administration to terminate federal aid to Arizona’s law enforcement agencies for immigration enforcement.

In a joint statement last year, the country’s leading labor federations, the AFL-CIO and Change to Win, outlined a comprehensive reform agenda that emphasized keeping working families together, avoiding enforcement-only practices, prioritizing workers’ rights and workplace protections, and adjusting the legal status of unauthorized immigrants to help them “come out of the shadows.”

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Joel Wendland-Liu
Joel Wendland-Liu

Joel Wendland-Liu teaches courses on diversity, intercultural competence, migration, and civil rights at Grand Valley State University in West Michigan. He is the author of "Mythologies: A Political Economy of U.S. Literature, Settler Colonialism, and Racial Capitalism in the Long Nineteenth Century" (International Publishers) and "The Collectivity of Life" (Lexington Books).