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AP-Univision Poll: Immigration splits Americans

A group of protesters against Arizona's controversial immigration bill march on the State Capitol in Phoenix. A new telephone poll by the Pew Research Center shows that 59 percent of Americans approve of Arizona's new law cracking down on illegal immigrants while only 32 percent disapprove. The polll was conducted on May 6-9 and released Wednesday, May 12, 2010. (AP Photo/Paul Connors, File)

A group of protesters against Arizona's controversial immigration bill march on the State Capitol in Phoenix. A new telephone poll by the Pew Research Center shows that 59 percent of Americans approve of Arizona's new law cracking down on illegal immigrants while only 32 percent disapprove. The polll was conducted on May 6-9 and released Wednesday, May 12, 2010. (AP Photo/Paul Connors, File)

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 white and 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 and non-Hispanic. He wants existing laws enforced and backs the new Arizona statute.

“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.”

Underlining the divergent reactions to the Arizona law, seven in 10 Hispanics hope their states don’t enact similar statutes, more than double the non-Hispanics who feel that way.

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.

By 73 percent to 46 percent, more Hispanics than others said police crackdowns on illegal immigrants are likely to target Hispanics unfairly. About three quarters of Hispanics said they would consider it a big problem if Arizona police questioned a Hispanic who turned out to be here legally, more than double the non-Hispanics who said so.

“It’s not one of these things where the Left would have you believe the Gestapo will be out there stomping down doors,” said John Wagner, 60, a manager with the Department of Homeland Security from Las Cruces, N.M.

But Jackie Gallegos, 18, a high school student from El Paso, Texas, said she resented intrusions the Arizona law would allow.

“People are living here, working here, why shouldn’t they have rights?” she said.

While both groups agree that illegal immigration is a serious problem, 83 percent of non-Hispanics think the federal government should be doing more about it, while 52 percent of Hispanics voice that view.

Hispanics trust Democrats more than Republicans to handle immigration, while it’s the other way around for non-Hispanics. Still, only 45 percent of Hispanics approve of how President Barack Obama is dealing with the issue — one of the few national issues where they rate his performance relatively poorly.

In other findings:

— Almost nine in 10 Hispanics say illegal immigrants take jobs Americans don’t want, compared with six in 10 non-Hispanics.

— More than a quarter of Hispanics say they would not have had documentation proving their status had they been stopped by police the day they answered the poll, about double the rate for non-Hispanics.

— Most Hispanics say only the federal government should enforce immigration laws, while a majority of non-Hispanics want local police involved.

The AP-Univision Poll was conducted from May 7-12 by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Media. It involved landline and cell phone interviews with 901 Hispanic adults and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 5.3 percentage points.

The findings were compared to a separate poll of 1,002 people from the general population, also by GfK Roper. It involved cell and landline interviews conducted from May 7-11, and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.

___

Associated Press Polling Director Trevor Tompson, AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius and AP writers Suzanne Gamboa and Christine Simmons contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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