Survey: Most Arizonans support a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants
PHOENIX — A new statewide survey suggests that the attitude of Arizonans about illegal immigrants may not be as harsh as that of many politicians.
The poll done for the Morrison Institute for Public Policy found that 78 percent of Arizonans said they would support legislation allowing those in this country illegally to become citizens under certain circumstances. That includes having no criminal record either here or in their home country, pay a fine, get a taxpayer ID number, and demonstrate they can speak English.
That even includes 69 percent of Republicans who were questioned earlier this month in the telephonic survey of 600 adult heads of households.
But pollster Bruce Merrill said it would be an oversimplification to say that Mesa voters ousted Russell Pearce on Tuesday because he has authored several measures aimed at illegal immigrants.
Merrill said separate questions show that about 70 percent of Arizonans support SB 1070. That legislation enacted last year is designed to give police more power to detain and arrest those not in the country legally.
“The issue of illegal immigration is much more complex than most people realize,” Merrill said. And he said that is reflected in the views of Arizonans he has questioned.
“They make a clear difference between being tough on the border, not just for illegal immigration (but) for terrorists and gun runners ... and what to do with people who have been here for a long time,” he said.
But Gov. Jan Brewer said the issues are linked.
“I think everybody wants a path to citizenship,” said Brewer, acknowledging the reality that there are perhaps 400,000 illegal immigrants in Arizona and 11 million nationwide who are not likely to self deport.
“But the bottom line is, the majority of the people, myself included, is that we don't want to talk about comprehensive immigration reform until we get our borders secured,” she said. Brewer said only when federal officials “do their job” will most Arizonans be willing to support legislation that lets those who entered the country illegally remain.
That question has divided Arizona politicians for some time.
Sen. Jon Kyl, the state's junior U.S. senator, at one point proposed requiring anyone who wants to become a citizen to first return to his or her own country. But that idea failed to gain traction amid questions of whether it was realistic to expect that many people to self-deport.
By contrast, John McCain, the state's other Republican U.S. senator, had at one point proposed “earned citizenship” in a form very similar to what Merrill sketched out in his question. But McCain backtracked after taking heat from conservatives within his own party and as he prepared his unsuccessful 2008 bid for president.
Merrill said he found younger Arizonans more accepting of the idea of providing a path to citizenship than older ones.
One figure that did stand out, though, is that only 48 percent of Hispanics questioned backed the idea. But Merrill said that is not as surprising at it seems.
He cited statements from a woman who does household help for his family who is a legal immigrant.
“Her position is, ‘My family stood in line and came here and it took us a long time and did it right,' ” Merrill said. “They resent very much people that come illegally.”
The survey has a margin of error of less than 5 percentage points.