Arizonans generally support the concept of local police officers enforcing federal immigration laws, but their support is fractured deeply along political and racial lines.
The big picture shows that 58 percent of residents statewide support the idea, according to the independent Rocky Mountain Poll, which was released Tuesday. However, the survey also exposes sharp divisions on the topic among different segments of the population.
Along political lines, Republicans are 72 percent supportive, while independents are 62 percent supportive and Democrats are 50 percent supportive.
Along ethnic lines, non-Hispanics are 63 percent in favor, while Hispanics are only 39 percent in favor.
“It’s a good example of how public policy questions are not always as easy as they appear to be on the surface,” said Jim Haynes, president of the Behavior Research Center, the nonpartisan polling firm that conducted the survey.
“You listen to talk radio, you listen to the standard debate on it, and people say, 'Why can’t cops, if they stop somebody for speeding or something, why can’t they check their nationality?’ Well, there’s an issue there,” Haynes said.
The survey results leave little doubt that Hispanics have serious concerns about police using racial profiling techniques to target Hispanics. “If you get some blond, Swedish-looking guy, are they really going to do that, as opposed to if you get some guy who looks Hispanic?” Haynes asked.
Self-identified Hispanics spanning all levels of acculturation, ranging from multigenerational Americans to illegal immigrants, fear racial profiling, Haynes said.
The survey’s results also raise questions about whether non-Hispanics understand the degree to which U.S.-born Hispanics believe they have been stigmatized by the debate.
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said the poll’s results validate his agency’s stepped-up illegal-immigration interdiction efforts.
“Fifty-eight percent is not bad when you go across the board — Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, independents,” he said.
“Fifty-eight percent, well, that crosses that 50 percent line, doesn’t it? More people want to do it than don’t want to do it, if you want to believe that poll,” he said.
The Rocky Mountain Poll was released the same day deputies arrested 20 illegal immigrants. Deputies apprehended a human smuggler and 14 border-crossers after discovering them in a van with California license plates during a traffic stop near Wickenburg. The 14 illegal immigrants in the van had agreed to pay the smuggler between $800 and $3,000 each to be transported to California, Michigan, Pennsylvania and New York, according to MCSO.
T uesday’s arrests brought the total number of people arrested or detained by deputies to 1,206 since MCSO began its high-profile crack-down on illegal immigrants in March 2006, Arpaio said.
Of that number, 781 people have been arrested under state law, rather than federal law, according to MCSO.
The 20-percent level of support among Hispanics is saddening, Arpaio said. “I get a lot of Hispanics that thank me, that are here legally. I don’t get many that thank me that are here illegally,” he said.
In contrast, most police agencies in the Valley haven’t made immigration enforcement a top initiative.
Tempe Police Chief Tom Ryff noted that he hadn’t had an opportunity to study the poll’s results, but his initial read was that the 58 percent overall support level indicated more public education efforts are needed.
His agency simply does not have the financial resources or training required for the job.
“There is definitely a concern as a chief with respect to our resources within local law enforcement to go out and primarily enforce immigration. We just don’t have the resources to go out and provide that enforcement,” Ryff said.
“Our primary focus within out department in Tempe is to go out and address the criminal element and fight crime and arrest people who have committed crimes against our citizens,” he said.
In addition to the strain on resources, immigration enforcement is a huge social and political issue that should be fully addressed in the public realm before the police department takes on such duties, Ryff said.
The poll found that support for police immigration enforcement erodes across all segments of the population if it infringes upon the amount of time police officers have for other duties. Similarly, support fades if funding immigration enforcement requires tax increases.
For example, the overall 58 percent support for immigration enforcement falls to 47 percent if it cuts into other police duties. Likewise, the 58 percent support drops to 39 percent support if it requires additional taxes.
The survey of 800 heads of households was conducted between Nov. 12 and 15 by Behavior Research Center, a nonpartisan, Phoenix-based polling firm. The survey has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.
The question in the poll read:
“In general, do you favor or oppose requiring local police, in addition to their regular duties, to enforce immigration laws by requiring officers to verify the nationality of anyone they stop in the course of their regular law enforcement duties?”