Poll: Views Mixed on Arizona Lawsuit, but Action Desired on Immigration

BY Quinn Bowman  July 12, 2010 at 6:49 PM EST

A poll by the Pew Research Center released late Monday shows that 63 percent of Americans think it is very important for Congress to address national immigration policy, while a slim plurality disapprove of the Justice Department’s decision to sue Arizona over the state’s tough immigration law.

Just 36 percent approve of the Justice Department lawsuit to stop enforcement of the law, in which the department argues that the law is unconstitutional because it interferes with the federal government’s ability to enforce one national policy on immigration. And while 45 percent said they disapprove of the suit, 19 percent had no opinion or refused to answer.

The Arizona law says that police officers check the citizenship status of anyone reasonably suspected of being in the state illegally. The law found support from two-thirds of Americans in a June Pew poll, but President Obama called the law misguided and used its passage to argue for a comprehensive approach to immigration reform — one that includes both tougher border protection and a path to citizenship for people in the country illegally. Critics of the law have charged that enforcement will lead to racial profiling of Hispanics in Arizona, among other objections.

On CBS’ “Face the Nation” Sunday, Attorney General Eric Holder said the Arizona law was not consistent with federal law and said it could be challenged based on concerns over racial profiling.

“It doesn’t mean that if the law, for whatever reason, happened to go into effect that six months from now, a year from now, we might not look at the impact the law has had and… see whether or not there has been that racial profiling impact,” Holder said on the program. “And if that was the case, we would have the tools, and we would bring suit on that basis.”

Michael Dimock, Associate Director of Research for Pew, said he wasn’t surprised that opinion was more mixed about the lawsuit compared to the opinion about the law itself.

“While there is more disapproval than approval of the Justice Department lawsuit, the balance is not as lopsided as the two-to-one approval people express for the Arizona law itself. This difference probably reflects the fact that the issues involved in the Justice Department lawsuit are pretty complicated and opaque to people – note that 19 percent offer no opinion, compared with only 3 percent who don’t have an opinion about the Arizona law itself,” Dimock said.

Dimock said that a more interesting aspect of polling on the immigration issue is that Americans have long supported tougher enforcement of immigration laws – reflected in the support for the Arizona law intended to make it easier for law enforcement to arrest illegal aliens – but are equally supportive of a path to citizenship.

In the poll released in June 2010, which showed 64 percent of Americans supportive of Arizona’s tough immigration approach, 68 percent supported a way for people in the United States illegally to gain citizenship if they pass background checks, pay fines and have jobs.

Americans also told Pew Research in the newest study that it was very important for Congress to address the following issues:

Address the job situation: 80 percent said very important

Reduce the federal budget deficit: 70 percent said very important

Address the country’s energy needs: 66 percent said very important

More strictly regulate financial institutions and markets: 53 percent said very important