WASHINGTON – Illegal immigrants are a boon, not a burden to the country, a resounding majority of Hispanics say, according to an Associated Press-Univision Poll that underscores sharp contrasts between the views of Hispanics and others. Most non-Hispanics say illegal immigrants are a drain on society.
In addition, most Hispanics condemn Arizona’s strict new law targeting undocumented immigrants, while only 20 percent of non-Hispanics oppose it.
The survey also found some remarkably similar views between Hispanics and non-Hispanics on the complex, emotional issue of immigration, which has gained prominence this election year. About two-thirds of both groups consider illegal immigration a serious problem, only a quarter of each think the Arizona law will ease the state’s troubles, and the largest portion of both populations think current limits on legal immigration should be left alone.
Even so, much of the poll – which questioned 901 Hispanic adults and was compared to a separate survey of the general population – reads as if soundings were taken of two distinct worlds, an impression fortified by follow-up interviews.
“People are not coming to this country to do bad things, people are coming to make money for their families,” said Javier Zurita, 43, a factory worker in Garfield, N.J., a U.S. citizen from Ecuador. “These people love this country, they’ve had sons and daughters in this country.”
William Ryan, 38, a contractor from Elkridge, Md., sees things differently.
“It seems like every working illegal immigrant has four family members who don’t work. And we’re paying for all of them,” said Ryan, who is non-Hispanic.
According to the poll, 74 percent of Hispanics said the country’s estimated 12 million illegal immigrants mostly contribute to society. Just 35 percent of non-Hispanics agreed, with 60 percent saying illegal immigrants are largely a drain.
Some 67 percent of Hispanics said they oppose the Arizona statute. Just 20 percent of non-Hispanics oppose it, with 45 percent favoring it and 30 percent neutral. The law allows local police to demand citizenship papers from people they suspect of being here illegally and to detain them if they can’t produce the documents.
“If I go to the convenience store for a gallon of milk, I don’t carry those kinds of things,” said Martin Ortiz, 37, a U.S.-born citizen and maintenance worker from San Diego. “I just slap on a pair of shorts. And a police officer notices me? Why should I get detained?”
Countering that viewpoint was Michael Doucet, 25, a technician from Houston who is white.
“Illegals are illegal,” said Doucet. “It’s not a problem with discrimination, it’s not a problem with whites hating Hispanics, it is what it is. Most illegals are Hispanic.”
Nearly nine in 10 Hispanics said a way should be found to help illegal immigrants already in this country become citizens, an idea that wins support from just over half of non-Hispanics. Some 62 percent of non-Hispanics – compared with just 24 percent of Hispanics – think being in the U.S. illegally should be considered a serious crime.