Eugene Volokh on Arizona’s Controversial Immigration Enforcement Law

by Reihan Salam

Eugene Volokh notes an intriguing finding from a recent Quinnipiac poll. When asked if they approve or disapprove of Arizona’s immigration law, the voters surveyed responded as follows:

The answers by race/ethnicity: Whites approve 66%-28%, blacks approve 55%-37%, and Hispanics disapprove 49%-47%. I thought the near even division among Hispanics was noteworthy, and indicative of just how broad anti-illegal-immigration sentiment is, including among the group whose citizen and legal resident members are most likely to suffer the side effects of such enforcement (e.g., extended detention if there’s some mistake, or possibly a stop that is motivated partly by a concern about the person’s possibly being an illegal immigrant).

As Volokh goes on to observe, however, other surveys have yielded significantly different results:

On the other hand, that a May 7-12, 2010 AP-Univision Poll poll, which asked, “Do you think that local police forces should have the power to enforce immigration laws, or do you think the job of enforcing immigration laws should be reserved only for the federal government?,” reported that 16% of Hispanics said local police should have such power, and 81% said it should be reserved for the federal government. (There was similar hostility to the Arizona law in particular, but without details on what the Arizona law does.) I’m not sure how to reconcile these results with the Quinnipiac results, though obviously the text of the question must make something of a difference.

Incidentally, the 2010 AP-Univision poll concluded, among other things, 52% of Hispanics said the U.S. government “should do more to keep illegal immigrants from entering and staying in the U.S.” (42% disagreed), even though 74% of Hispanics said that on balance “illegal immigrants mostly make a contribution to American society [rather than being] mostly a drain on American society” (21% said they were mostly a drain). The sense that the laws need to be enforced — setting aside the question of who should enforce them — is, I think, pretty powerful, even among those who seem to be skeptical of the merits of the laws.

This suggests — to me, at least — that questions surrounding immigration enforcement aren’t central to Latino voters, a broad and diverse category. Rather, Latino voters, like non-Latino voters, are voting in accordance with their perceived economic interests, with some pro-Democratic bias that might reflect the perception that the Democrats are the somewhat less Anglo-dominant party.

The Agenda

NRO’s domestic-policy blog, by Reihan Salam.