SACRAMENTO - California voters are deeply divided over the new Arizona law that makes it a state crime to be without papers. A new Field Poll finds that while 49 percent of the state’s registered voters approved of the law, 45 percent disapprove.
But delving deeper into the ethnic groups reveals starker divisions. Latinos are the only ethnic group that overwhelmingly oppose it. Seventy-one percent of Latinos oppose Arizona’s law, while 58 percent of white voters and 53 percent of black voters support it.
Asian-American voters are split, with 50 percent in favor and 43 percent opposed. Among Asian Americans, Vietnamese-American voters are more likely to support the law, while Korean Americans are more opposed. Chinese-American voters are closely divided.
On both sides, voters expressed strong opinions about it.
“It’s an issue that hasn’t been attended to adequately [by the federal government], and this is what happens,” says Field Poll Director Mark DiCamillo. “When an issue is left to fester, opinions become more divided.”
Anthony Gray, a 34-year-old who works in sales in San Francisco, says he strongly approves of the Arizona law. “I’m African American so I come from a standpoint that to get to a certain point, the country asks a demographic to carry a burden they shouldn’t have to carry. Right now Hispanics have to carry the burden.”
Gray says he has yet to see an alternative solution to “stopping Mexican cartels from coming across the border.”
The Arizona law, he says, will require Hispanics to have to carry their identification. “Should they have to do it? Absolutely not. But it’s a small price to pay to make sure the American people are safe.”
Eugene Cosey, a 64-year-old African American from Los Angeles, also supports the Arizona law because, he says, “it’s a safety issue.”
“You got people coming in here that want to make a living, raise their kids,” says the former truck driver. “I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about the other ones that are bringing guns.”
But the concern for many Latinos is that law-abiding immigrants could get caught in the net.
Jennifer Heredia Garcia, a 25-year-old civil engineer who lives in Hacienda Heights, is a U.S. citizen, but she was in the country illegally until she was 16 or 17. Her grandmother worked in the fields and her mother didn’t apply for papers until she was older.
“There are people like me who come here and want to do good, and they’re going to be sent back. And that’s a disadvantage for this country.”
Garcia isn’t surprised that a majority of white and black voters supported the Arizona law.
“The ones that are not affected are the whites and the blacks,” she said. “They’re not going to go after black people with this law.”
Phil Hutchings, senior organizer of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), says he has seen a shift in African Americans’ attitudes about immigration.
“It used to be that African Americans were upset that immigrants were taking their jobs. Now it’s increasingly that they’re upset that people have crossed the border illegally.”
BAJI took a group of black ministers from the Bay Area to participate in an anti-SB 1070 rally on May 29 in Phoenix. But in his meetings with black churches, Hutchings noticed that “not all the black ministers were on the same page,” and even if the ministers opposed the Arizona law, many of their congregations supported it.
Yet some of the strongest opponents of the Arizona law have come from black leadership. Reverend Al Sharpton was one of the first voices to call for mass civil disobedience against the new law, leading a prayer vigil and a nighttime march through downtown Phoenix on May 5.
This paradox reflects what Hutchings calls “a major problem in U.S. liberalism: individual spokespeople who make good statements but never get to their own bases and do the education.”
“The question of immigration is on the agenda of very few African-American organizations,” says Hutchings. “We don’t think about it. We don’t see it as our problem. When I ask people what they think about immigration, there’s a pause, and they say, ‘Are you talking to me?’”
The poll findings, he says, provide a stark reminder of the work that organizations like his still need to do. But the poll also might offer a ray of hope for activists like Hutchings, says Mark DiCamillo. DiCamillo notes that the poll findings also show that opinions about illegal immigration have become more moderate since the Field Poll first asked the question in 1982.
Then only 38 percent thought illegal immigrants were doing jobs other Californians didn’t want. Now that number has risen to 58 percent.