Florida voters support immigration reform

MIAMI – A recent poll offering a snapshot of Florida voters found that, despite contradictory attitudes, Floridians back President Barack Obama’s recent decision to end deportations of DREAM Act-eligible youth. They also support some broader, more sweeping reform.

In a contradictory twist, a large percentage of polled voters backed arresting undocumented immigrants, while at the same time supporting legislation that would offer a road to citizenship for everyone here without documentation.

The poll was conducted July 9 – 11, a few weeks after Obama made his June 15 announcement. Under his new policy, the Department of Homeland Security will no longer seek to deport undocumented students or high school graduates under the age of 30 who came here when they were 15 or younger, have continually resided in the U.S. for five years and have no serious criminal record.

According to the poll results, proponents of the policy have a commanding lead, with 53 percent of respondents – a sample of likely Florida voters – in support, 42 percent opposed, and the rest undecided.

Florida is divided geographically, with the far southeast politically and culturally different from the north. The poll results reflect this divide.

In the southeast is Miami, which is, according to a 2004 report by the United Nations, the most immigrant city on the planet: no other major city has a larger percentage of its population born outside of its host country. In Miami, Cubans predominate, but the large Hispanic population in the city and Miami-Dade County, has become far more diverse, with large Venezuelan, Nicaraguan, Argentine and other Latin American populations. In addition, there is a large Haitian and African American population, especially outside the city of Miami but within Miami-Dade County. Bordering is Broward County, perhaps the most liberal in the state.

In the area surrounding Miami, which stretches from Key West north through Palm Beach, 63 percent of those surveyed support Obama’s move, while only slightly more than 1 in 3 oppose it.

On the other hand, the northern part of Florida is far more closely related to the American South. In this area, Obama received less support: 44-51 percent opposed. Nonetheless, this can be seen as a decent achievement for Obama supporters in this conservative area.

There is a racial and ethnic divide in the poll results as well. Forty-six percent of whites supported the president’s move, with 50 percent opposed. Given the poll’s margin of error, however, this is a statistical tie. However, 72 percent of blacks and a whopping 74 percent of Hispanics support Obama’s action.

These results are significant. A majority of Cubans seem to be in support of Obama’s rules change. Cubans have tended to vote conservative, and have in the past been seen as at odds with the rest of the Hispanic American population. This poll suggests a high degree of Cuban support for non-Cuban immigrants. The support is not self-serving, either: A popular saying puts it: “There is no such thing as an undocumented Cuban.” This is a reference to the U.S. policy, aimed at encouraging migration from Castro’s Cuba, of granting immediate legal status to any Cuban who reaches American soil. Thus, Cubans themselves do not directly benefit from the rules change.

The 72 percent support in the black community is significant as well. While a section of Florida blacks are Haitian-American, they are mostly concentrated in Miami-Dade. The Haitian American community will certainly benefit from Obama’s directive, but the majority of African American support is statewide.

The results suggest that half of whites and a majority of African Americans are in solidarity with undocumented immigrants.

Strangely, most of those polled said they support Arizona-style legislation that would allow police to ask for documentation of residence from anyone whom they stop, and then arrest those who can’t produce it. Only in the Miami region, where the results were tied at 46-46, did a majority not support such legislation. No one is quite sure what to make of this number, especially since the rest of the poll’s results on immigration strongly contradict it.

Far more encouraging for proponents of immigrant rights, the vast majority of Floridians in all areas of the state support “immigration reform legislation that allowed all of those who are living here without legal status to be given the opportunity to stay and apply for citizenship”.

The lowest came from northern Florida (the U.S. South), with 61 percent, but even that is a commanding majority. The Miami-Dade/Broward region showed 71 percent support. Sixty-three percent of whites supported such legislation, while 73 and 77 percent of blacks and Hispanics, respectively, supported it.

The poll, done on behalf of the Miami Herald and other press outlets by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research, Inc., was conducted by random telephone interview of 800 likely voters, and has a margin of error of about 4 percent. Sub-groups have a slightly greater margin of error due to the smaller sample size.

Photo: Victor L. Atunez // CC 2.0