Poll finds more support for a law like Arizona's

Support for an Arizona-style law targeting illegal immigrants has grown among Nevadans, especially among Democrats, in recent weeks, according to a new poll.

The poll showed 63 percent of Nevadans would support a law that would allow local police to ask people already stopped for other possible violations to show proof they are in the country legally, then arrest those who couldn't provide such proof.

That's up from an early June poll in which 57 percent said they would support bringing such a law to Nevada.

The increase in support was especially sharp among Nevada's Democrats. In June, 31 percent of Democrats said they would support a similar law here, while the latest poll results show 44 percent of Democrats supporting it. Democrats were evenly split on the issue, with 44 percent opposing the law and 12 percent undecided.

Republicans again overwhelmingly supported bringing such a law here.

"I think party goes out the window, to some extent, when you're in a state close to the border," said Brad Coker, managing director of Washington, D.C.-based Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, which conducted the telephone poll of 625 registered Nevada voters July 12-14. The poll was commissioned by the Las Vegas Review-Journal and KLAS TV, Channel 8.

The poll's margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.

The controversial Arizona law, set to take effect July 29, has fueled nationwide debate and helped renew interest in the contentious issue of comprehensive immigration reform.

Coker said the Obama administration's decision to file a lawsuit against Arizona's new law has proven unpopular and may have actually increased support for that law.

The new poll showed a majority of Nevadans -- 65 percent -- opposed the administration's decision to file the lawsuit against Arizona's law, which makes it a state crime to be in the country illegally and allows police to check the immigration status of people already stopped for other offenses.

Twenty-five percent of respondents supported the decision to file a lawsuit, while 10 percent were undecided.

The decision appeared to be unpopular even among Nevada Democrats, 49 percent of whom opposed it. Thirty-nine percent of Democrats supported the decision, and 12 percent were undecided.

Supporters of Arizona's law say it's necessary to protect Arizonans from crimes committed by illegal immigrants, and that the federal government has failed to enforce immigration laws. Critics say the law is unconstitutional, could lead to racial profiling and make people afraid to report crimes.

Assemblyman Chad Christensen, R-Las Vegas, this month abandoned his petition drive to put an Arizona-style immigration law on the books in Nevada, saying lawsuits filed against the petition by civil rights and other groups made it impossible to gather the 97,002 signatures needed by a Nov. 9 deadline.

On Friday Christensen said the poll results show "the naysayers are very much in the minority."

"I don't think it's a partisan issue," he said. "Americans know we have a serious problem."

But Christensen said he listened to concerns from business leaders that bringing a law like Arizona's to Nevada could inspire boycotts and hurt the economy. Any future immigration-related legislation should carefully consider those concerns, he said.

"We can't afford a boycott," he said.

The growth in support among Nevadans for a law like Arizona's "reflects popular support for what people think the law is supposed to do," said Maggie McLetchie, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada.

But there's a lot of misinformation about the Arizona law, she said.

"It wouldn't just affect undocumented people," she said. "It would increase police power in an unprecedented way. Nevadans are concerned about immigration, but they also are civil liberties people."

Further, McLetchie said, just because the law is supported by the majority doesn't mean it is constitutional.

"We have a constitution to protect against the tyranny of the majority," she said. "People are frustrated with the federal government and its enforcement of immigration law, but it's unquestionably unconstitutional for a state to do something that is pre-empted by the federal government."

Contact reporter Lynnette Curtis at lcurtis@reviewjournal.com.