From the sprawling suburbs of the East Valley to the boutiques of Sedona and the border towns farther south, illegal immigration is on the minds of voters and the lips of politicians. It could be the issue of 2006 in Arizona politics.
That’s borne out by results of a recent Arizona Republic Poll of 602 registered voters.
More than nine in 10 respondents said a candidate’s approach to illegal immigration would be at least somewhat important when it comes to deciding their vote for governor. Nearly two-thirds called the issue very important.
“It is undoubtedly the biggest issue for this year,” Arizona State University pollster Bruce Merrill said. “In my own work, it’s clearly coming out as the main issue.”
An estimated half-million immigrants enter the United States illegally each year, joining the roughly 11 million already here, about 300,000 to 500,000 of whom are in Arizona.
Some melt into communities, providing cheap, needed labor to the state’s agricultural and service industries. Others live on the margins, engaging in criminal activity and fueling fears of gangs and terrorism.
With security tightened along more-populous sections of the 1,951-mile Southwest border, Arizona’s comparatively desolate stretch now is the most porous. Last year, more than half of the 1.2 million arrests the Border Patrol made were in Arizona.
Many state residents talk in panicked terms. Arizona is being overrun, they say. Government is, or acts as if it is, powerless to stem the tide of undocumented residents coming to their communities and their neighborhoods.
Twenty-two percent of those polled said the Republican-controlled state Legislature has done enough on the issue in the past year. Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat, received a thumbs-up from 31 percent of residents.
Rep. Russell Pearce sees trouble in the figures for the governor.
Pearce, R-Mesa, is one of the Legislature’s staunchest opponents of illegal immigration, and said Napolitano has been little more than a roadblock to his efforts in recent years.
Some, such as NAU freshman and registered Republican Zachary Obrey, 18, “feel sorry” for undocumented immigrants and “don’t want them to be kicked out.”
Seated inches away was Boyce, also a Republican.
“I’ve met illegal immigrants who hate everything about America,” she said. “They’re just here for the money. That bothers me.”
More than half of poll respondents said they’d support the passage of a state law to revoke business licenses from companies caught hiring undocumented workers. One-third said construction of a fence along the border would be effective.