Only about half of Texans oppose “sanctuary” policies in which law enforcement or other local authorities don’t report undocumented immigrants to federal authorities.
But more than 90 percent of Texans believe that local police should be allowed to ask about immigration status if a person is arrested for a crime, according to the results of a poll on immigration conducted by the Texas Lyceum this month.
The poll was the nonprofit leadership group’s first deep dive into the issue of immigration in its 11-year polling history. The results were released as border security and state-based immigration efforts continue to be key and divisive issues for Texas lawmakers heading into the final six weeks of the current biennial legislative session.
The poll of 1,000 Texans was conducted from April 3 to April 9 and also focused on President Trump’s promised border wall and whether it should be up to employers to check the immigration status of the people they hire. It has a margin of error of +/- 3.1 percentage points and was overseen by University of Texas at Austin professor Daron Shaw and Joshua Blank, the manager of polling and research at the Texas Politics Project at UT. (Both Shaw and Blank have also worked on the University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.)
The pollsters found that 62 percent of Texans said immigration helps the United States more than it hurts the country. That’s an increase from 2016, when 54 percent of the respondents said they viewed immigration was more beneficial than harmful.
The pollsters defined "sanctuary" entities as those in which “[when] local police or city government employees learn that someone is in the country illegally, they do not automatically turn that person over to federal immigration enforcement officers.”
Forty-five percent of the respondents supported sanctuary policies, while 49 percent opposed them. At the same time, 93 percent of all respondents said local police should be able to inquire into a person’s immigration status when arrested for a crime.
The results suggest most Texans would likely support "sanctuary" legislation currently moving through the Texas House, which would limits inquiries into immigration status from local law enforcement to people who have already been arrested.
Proposed legislation that passed the Senate earlier this year permits local police to ask about immigration status if a person is either arrested or detained by law enforcement for other reasons.
The Lyceum poll found deeper divisions among Texans when asked if inquiries by law enforcement into immigration status should be allowed for people who aren’t arrested. Only 44 percent agree that police should check a person's status during a traffic stop, while 41 percent agreed that immigration status should be checked when a person is reporting a crime. Only 39 percent said that status should be checked when the police believe that a person is a witness to a crime or could provide information.
Opponents of more broad-based inquiries argue that the expanded authority would create a chilling effect that would lead to the public cooperating less with law enforcement. When broken down by party lines, 99 percent of Republicans think immigration status should be checked when a person is arrested for a crime, while 68 percent think it should be checked during a routine traffic stop. A slight majority, 53 percent, agree that status should be checked when a person is reporting a crime or is a witness.
While 88 percent of Democrats think immigration inquires should be made when a person is arrested, only 28 percent think it should be checked during a traffic stop. Only 30 percent think it should be checked when a person is reporting a crime or is a witness to one.
The poll also delved into how much the state should be spending on border security. In 2015, the Texas Legislature approved a record $800 million border security budget.
Half of the respondents were asked if the state should stay the current course with President Trump in the White House, while the other half was asked about state expenditures with Republicans in charge of the U.S. Congress. Under both conditions, most of the respondents with an opinion on the issue – 45 percent of those questioned about Trump and 41 percent questioned about Congress – agreed the state should keep spending largely on the border.
“This indicates that, overall, Texans are expressing a greater expectation that the President will deliver on border security and/or immigration enforcement than Republicans in Congress, but there is no outcry to decrease the amount of money Texas spends securing its borders,” poll supervisors wrote in their summary.
When asked about President Trump’s plan to build a wall on the southern border, only about a third, or 35 percent, favored a barrier separating Texas from Mexico. Sixty-one percent opposed the project. The numbers are almost identical to the poll's results from 2016, when 35 percent favored building the wall and 59 percent opposed such a project. This year, however, the percentage of respondents who identified as Hispanic that supported construction of the wall rose from 18 percent in 2016 to 25 percent.
The survey also found that nearly two-thirds of respondents, or 63 percent, strongly supported a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants after a long waiting period if the applicants paid taxes and a penalty, passed a criminal background check and learned English. Twenty-seven of the respondents somewhat supported that idea, while 4 percent somewhat opposed and 5 percent strongly opposed.
Nearly three-fourths of Texans agreed that employers should check the immigration status of prospective employees and favored harsh penalties and fines for people who knowingly hire unauthorized immigrants. Forty-nine percent of the respondents strongly supported those measures, while 23 percent somewhat supported them. Only 23 percent opposed placing the responsibility on employers and making them subject to fines and punishment.
On Wednesday, the Texas Lyceum will release poll results on how Texans view President Trump, Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz's re-election prospects against a possible Democratic opponent.
Disclosure: The Texas Lyceum and the University of Texas at Austin have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.