Three out of four Mesa voters support vigorous enforcement of immigration laws by Mesa police, an exclusive Tribune poll reveals.But nearly as many people say that Mesa needs to improve relations between Hispanic and non-Hispanic people in the city.
In late February, Phoenix-based Behavior Research Center polled 400 registered Mesa voters to talk about city issues, including their views on immigration, race relations and Mesa police Chief George Gascón. The survey's margin of error was plus or minus 5 percentage points.
Of those surveyed, nearly 76 percent said they support having Mesa police enforce immigration laws, about 19 percent opposed the idea, and nearly 6 percent said they didn't know or would not answer.
East Mesa resident Sally Tenney, 59, said she felt very strongly about enforcing illegal immigration because the number of crimes and undocumented aliens using public services was hurting the quality of life in Mesa.
"Our standard of living is going down," she said. "I never believed I was prejudiced - I'm not a prejudiced person, but I'm becoming prejudiced."
Among white non-Hispanics who answered the question, about 79 percent supported the idea, nearly 16 percent were opposed, and about 5 percent didn't know or wouldn't say.
Among Hispanics, however, the results were almost evenly split: 50 percent supported "vigorous" enforcement, more than 43 percent did not, and just under 7 percent were undecided or refused to answer.
Behavior Research Center President Jim Haynes said the numbers point to differing perspectives among legal Hispanic residents.
On one hand, you have some people who live within the law and are offended by those who break it. On the other hand, there are people who oppose "vigorous enforcement" because they fear it means racial profiling, Haynes said.
"It's a fact-of-life issue here," he said. "I think there's evidence there are divisions within the Hispanic community, and there are divisions on that issue just like anything else."
East Mesa resident Antonio Gonzales, 59, said illegal immigrants shouldn't be punished because the government has not come up with a good solution yet.
"We used them and now we have no use for them anymore, so now we are going to punish them and send them back," he said.
"There is no real good solution, but I don't think they should be constantly harassed."
The poll also asked voters what they think of Gascón. who supports cooperation between local and federal agents to identify illegal immigrants, but that the department has limited resources and should focus on reducing crime.
The majority of respondents, slightly more than 54 percent, said they agree with Gascón position on enforcing immigration laws.
About 22 percent disagreed, and nearly 24 percent were undecided or refused to answer.
Former U.S. Marine Corps and Air Force instructor Al Bunting, 79, said Gascón is doing "as good a job as he is allowed to do."
"If they would turn him loose, we wouldn't have the problems we've got today," Bunting said. "He needs a little more help and free rein to size things up and do something about it."
Tenney said she doesn't think Mesa police should be rounding up people they suspect of being in the city illegally, but she does support police checking the immigration status of people with whom they come in contact.
"I do know Gascón is a little soft on the whole idea," she said.
Although more than 300 of those surveyed said they support tough enforcement of illegal immigration laws, nearly as many said there is a need to improve relationships between Hispanics and non-Hispanics in Mesa.
Among the 339 white non-Hispanics surveyed, nearly 72 percent agreed, about 21 percent disagreed and slightly more than 7 percent didn't know or refused to respond.
Of the 29 Hispanics surveyed, about 86 percent agreed with that idea, 10 percent did not, and 3 percent were undecided or would not answer.
Gonzales said he moved to Mesa in 1991, and there were issues when a non-white person would move into the community.
"And there still are a lot of issues that need to be addressed," he said. "But it all starts in your home. What are you going to teach your kids?"