Poll: Stricter Immigration Laws Wanted

Earnest Winston, Charlotte Observer, Oct. 8

Most Carolinians believe it should be harder for people to immigrate to the United States, according to the 2004 Carolinas Poll.

About 80 percent of those surveyed said they oppose loosening restrictions for America’s newest arrivals. Women and residents ages 35 and older were more likely to want tougher laws for immigrants entering the country.

Their opinions come as national immigration, labor and law experts hold a forum today in Charlotte on the current immigration system and how it affects employers and workers. The program, which is free and open to the public, is organized by the Charlotte Chamber, Mecklenburg County Bar and the Latin American Chamber of Commerce.

Charlotte resident Kevin Merrill, one of those interviewed in the poll, said he is disturbed because too many institutions cater to immigrants. When he goes to the ATM, he says, he shouldn’t be forced to choose between English or Spanish.

“Is it Bank of America or Bank of Latin America?” said the 42-year-old Merrill, who owns a telecommunications brokerage company. “It’s just something that rubs me the wrong way.”

Many respondents said in follow-up interviews that beefing up immigration laws would reduce competition for jobs, ease the burden on government and other services, and stem the flow of terrorists coming to the United States.

Noah Pickus, adjunct associate professor of public policy at the Sanford Institute at Duke University, said the view of most respondents “captures a sense that the system is broken.”

“I think that it’s not out of line with national thinking, but it is more pronounced,” he said. “I think it’s more pronounced because North and South Carolina have historically not been major immigration sites.”

Pickus said it’s not uncommon for people to believe that immigrants are hard workers and contribute to America’s diversity and economy. But the same people, he said, also believe it should be harder for them to immigrate to the United States.

“Immigration is one of the issues where people will often say contradictory things and believe both of them,” he said.

Take Dawn Esver of Huntersville, for instance. The stay-at-home mom said she believes immigrants do a lot to contribute to America.

But Esver, 32, also said, “With terrorism being the way it is, it should be a lot more difficult to get into the country. And that’s a lot coming from me because my husband’s from the Philippines.”

Although nearly 60 percent of all Americans believe immigrants enhance American society, more than 40 percent of Americans favor decreasing immigration levels, according to a 2003 poll conducted by Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., and administered by Zogby International.

Macene Deaton, one of those interviewed in the Carolinas Poll, said she’s met people who left China for America—and “they seem to be very good Christian people.”

Still, the 69-year-old Concord woman said: “I don’t think it should be so easy to get here and get jobs and not have to pay taxes like we do.”

Alethea Schaffer, who also participated in the poll, is in the minority. She said it should be easier to immigrate to the United States and that Americans should welcome immigrants.

“I just don’t think we should be trying to keep people out,” said Schaffer, a 22-year-old teacher from Black Mountain, N.C. “I just feel like the United States is a melting pot. Nobody is really from here.”

Al Bailey of Conway, S.C., doesn’t care whether immigrants are here legally or illegally. The 56-year-old, who says he’s not a racist, said too many immigrants come to America and “try to take over.”

Organizers of today’s forum say the goal is to help attendees learn about immigration laws and how they affect workers and employers. “It isn’t just the number of restrictions, but all the hoops and loops that applicants for immigration benefits have to go through and the administrative backlogs they have to maneuver,” said Ana Flynn, one of the forum’s organizers.

Organizers will put on two skits: one that will show the troubles facing an employer who discovers many of his employees are here illegally. The other skit will portray what happens to those workers, and the problems that face illegal immigrants. The forum will run 8-11:30 a.m. at the Hyatt Charlotte at SouthPark, 5501 Carnegie Blvd.

Regarding the results of the Carolinas Poll, Flynn said “a lot of the reaction about tightening controls and preventing people from coming in illegally comes from the fact that (people) don’t understand the difficulties people have coming in legally.”

She said restrictions adversely affect the U.S. economy.

“If these people do not come in, we would all be hurting. Houses would not be built as inexpensively as they are,” and restaurants and hotels would not be properly staffed, she said.

How This Poll was Conducted

The 2004 Charlotte Observer/WCNC 6News Carolinas Poll is the 24th annual survey of adults in the Carolinas. The poll is based on 872 telephone interviews conducted Sept. 14 through Sept. 27. The maximum sampling error is plus or minus 3.3 percentage points.

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