Most Americans approve of Arizona’s law on illegal immigrants

WASHINGTON — A strong majority of Americans support Arizona’s controversial new immigration law and would back similar laws in their own states, a new McClatchy-Ipsos poll found.

Sixty-one percent of Americans — and 64 percent of registered voters — said they favored the law in a survey of 1,016 adults conducted May 6-9.

Strikingly, nearly half of Democrats like the law, under which local law enforcement officers are tasked with verifying people’s immigration status if they suspect them of being in the country illegally. While the Democratic Party generally is regarded as more sympathetic to illegal immigrants’ plights, 46 percent of Democrats said they favored the law for Arizona and 49 percent said they’d favor the law’s passage in their own states.

More than eight in 10 Republicans and 54 percent of independents favor the law.

In addition, about 69 percent of Americans said they wouldn’t mind if police officers stopped them to ask for proof of their citizenship or legal rights to be in the country; about 29 percent would mind, considering it a violation of their rights; and about 3 percent were unsure.

A separate Pew Research Center poll on the Arizona law released today found similar sentiments.

In the McClatchy-Ipsos poll, almost two-thirds of Americans said illegal immigration was a real problem that hurt the country; they were evenly split as to whether the jobs illegal immigrants take are ones that Americans don’t want.

The McClatchy-Ipsos poll had an error margin of plus or minus 3.07 percentage points for all those surveyed and 3.26 percentage points for registered voters.

These results speak to the political land mines that immigration policy presents for President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats. Obama has called the Arizona law misguided. The Justice Department is considering a lawsuit to block it, concerned about the implications for civil rights and for police, who might be diverted from basic public safety tasks or find it harder to talk to potential witnesses in criminal investigations.

The poll results also illustrate the uphill battle that immigrant-rights activists face in pushing Congress to pass legislation that would pair tougher border enforcement — which is universally popular — with a path to citizenship for immigrants who are here now illegally.

While many Democratic politicians, including Obama, favor such so-called comprehensive legislation, they lack the bipartisan support needed to make it law.

Heading into this year’s congressional elections, they also face an electorate that’s sensitive to losing jobs or diverting services to undocumented laborers, because of the economic crisis.

The nonpartisan Pew survey found that 73 percent of Americans approve of requiring people to verify their legal status and two-thirds support police detaining people who can’t. Pew’s survey of 994 adults also was conducted May 6-9.

The Pew survey identified an age gap: Just 45 percent of people younger than 30 approve of the Arizona law, while three-fourths of Americans 65 and older approve.

The Pew poll had an error margin of plus or minus 4 percentage points for the overall sample.

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