A majority of Virginians — 55 percent — say local governments should be required to use their resources to enforce federal immigration laws, according to a poll released today by the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University.
The finding, part of the Wilder School’s Summer 2017 Public Policy Poll, comes amid a growing debate about the role of local governments in immigration enforcement and indicates that most Virginians are likely to be supportive of local governments being required to use taxpayer resources to help enforce federal immigration laws.
“We welcome objective and nonpartisan polls of Virginians like this important one from VCU’s Wilder School,” said Brian Moran, Virginia secretary of public safety and homeland security. “The poll insights will help inform the debate around such a controversial issue that is relevant and important to all Virginians. Informing policymakers as much as possible around such an important issue is imperative, including a window into what the public thinks.”
The poll, a representative random sample of 806 adults in Virginia contacted by landline and cell telephone from July 17-25, has an overall margin of error of 4.2 percentage points.
Some local governments have argued that using local resources to enforce immigration laws erodes public safety because immigrants may be less willing to contact local police if they are victims of or witness a crime. The city of Chicago filed suit in federal court last week, arguing that a Trump administration policy seeking to deny broad categories of federal funding to so-called “sanctuary cities” — cities that refuse to use local resources for immigration enforcement — is in violation of the Constitution.
Stark differences along partisan lines were found in support of such a requirement for localities, a factor that will likely see Virginia’s gubernatorial candidates come down on opposite sides of the issue. Seventy-three percent of Republicans and 57 percent of independents thought localities should be required to spend their own resources to enforce immigration laws. Only 40 percent of Democrats thought the same.
“This is a complex public safety issue at the forefront of the current national debate,” said Robyn McDougle, Ph.D., faculty director of the Wilder School’s Office of Public Policy Outreach, which conducted the poll. “But it’s also very relevant in Virginia. This past General Assembly session, we saw the governor veto legislation that would have banned localities from restricting the enforcement of federal immigration laws. This gives policymakers a sense of what the public thinks about this issue, as well as the differences along regional and partisan lines.”
In addition to differences along partisan lines, the poll also found significant regional differences on the question with respondents in the west — at 64 percent — most likely to think localities should be required to enforce federal laws. Northern Virginia respondents were the least likely at 48 percent. Fifty-seven percent of Tidewater residents and 56 percent of those in the northwest and south central regions said localities should be required to use local resources to help enforce federal immigration laws.
Virginians were split in their opinion of when deportation should be used, with a plurality (39 percent) saying undocumented immigrants should only be deported if they have committed a serious crime. However, 31 percent said all undocumented immigrants should be deported and 22 percent thought those who had committed any crime should be deported. Only 6 percent felt that undocumented immigrants should never be deported.
These opinions were significantly different than a national poll by Quinnipiac University in February that indicated a majority of respondents (53 percent) thought undocumented immigrants should be deported only if they had committed a serious crime and only 19 percent thought that all undocumented immigrants should be deported.
On the question of deportation, the poll found party identification again played an important role with a slight majority of Republicans (51 percent) responding that all undocumented immigrants should be deported and 57 percent of Democrats saying only those who committed serious crimes should be deported. Independents were slightly more likely to say only those who committed serious crimes should be deported (41 percent) compared to deporting all undocumented immigrants (36 percent.)
“Such findings provide potential insight into the near success of Corey Stewart’s Republican primary campaign for governor in which he staked out more expansive positions on deportation than did the eventual Republican nominee, Ed Gillespie,” McDougle said. “Given the narrow plurality among independents for deporting only those undocumented immigrants who have committed serious crimes, the candidates in the general election may feel pulled in one direction by independents and the opposite direction by their partisan base.”
Minority respondents were more likely to say that deportation should be reserved only for those who committed serious crimes (51 percent) while white respondents were more evenly split. Thirty-seven percent of white respondents said all undocumented immigrants should be deported while 33 percent said only serious criminals should be deported. Regionally, those in Northern Virginia and the northwest were more likely to say only undocumented immigrants who are serious criminals should be deported (47 percent and 46 percent, respectively) while those in the west were more likely to say all undocumented immigrants should be deported (44 percent).
The Wilder School poll also found a solid majority (60 percent) of Virginians said they support taking in refugees from majority-Muslim countries after screening for security risks, while 35 percent were opposed. But a smaller percentage (50 percent) thought that such refugees would be welcomed by most residents in their community. Thirty-nine percent of respondents said they thought refugees wouldn’t be welcomed by most residents in their own community.
“These findings indicate two different layers of public opinion regarding refugees settling in the commonwealth,” said McDougle. “Even in the midst of the controversy this spring about the Trump administration’s proposed restrictions on travel for refugees from Muslim-majority countries, most Virginians support taking in refugees from those countries. But a smaller percentage think such refugees would be welcomed by most people in their own local community.”
The support for taking in refugees varied by region and by educational experience. Northern Virginia respondents were most likely to be supportive (71 percent), followed by the south central region (66 percent), the northwest (60 percent) and Tidewater (58 percent). The west was the least likely (49 percent).
Those with more educational experience were also more likely to be supportive. Seventy-six percent of those with a college degree or more said they supporting taking in refugees, while only 59 percent of those with some college experience and 51 percent of those with a high school diploma or less were supportive.
In the weeks ahead, the Wilder School’s Office of Public Policy will be releasing further poll results measuring Virginians’ views on economic development (Aug. 22) and K-12 and higher education (Aug. 29).
For a PDF of the 13-page report including complete question wording and detailed tables of results see www.wilder.vcu.edu/