A new poll shows a majority of Nevadans believe undocumented workers are taking jobs away from U.S. citizens.
The survey, commissioned by the Las Vegas Review-Journal and 8NewsNow, also shows that almost half of Nevadans believe the state's economy would be better without illegal workers.
The results probably would be a bit more charitable toward undocumented workers if Nevada's economy was in better shape, said Brad Coker, managing director of Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc., which conducted the telephone poll of 625 registered Nevada voters Tuesday through Thursday .
"I think these results are economically driven," Coker said. "People think getting rid of illegal workers would open more jobs up and would put less strain on government services."
Nevada had an estimated 130,000 undocumented workers in 2009, the highest share of undocumented workers in the nation, at 9.4 percent, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
Fifty-four percent of Nevadans said they believe immigrants without legal status are taking jobs away from Nevada citizens, while 31 percent said such workers fill low-wage jobs most citizens wouldn't take. Fifteen percent were undecided.
Forty-six percent of Nevadans said the state's economy would be better if those who are not here legally were removed from the work force, while 31 percent said the economy would be about the same. Thirteen percent said the economy would be worse without undocumented workers and 10 percent weren't sure.
The poll's overall margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Jeremy Aguero, a principal in local research and consulting firm Applied Analysis, said it is difficult to say whether the economy would be better without undocumented workers.
"I would need to know what you mean by 'better,' " he said. "There is no evidence to suggest our unemployment would be lower" without undocumented workers.
Aguero also said incomes among Nevadans could very well be lower without undocumented workers.
"Sometimes we forget we are arguably the most growth-dependent economy in the U.S. The more people we have occupying rental units, eating out, buying things, the more people are working."
Aguero said people at the lower end of the income spectrum, where undocumented workers tend to fall, also are more likely to "spend all they earn."
"Their money stays in the local economy at a relatively high rate," he said.
Opinions differed widely among Hispanics polled. Sixty-one percent of Hispanics said undocumented workers fill jobs citizens would not take, while 28 percent said such workers take jobs from citizens and 11 percent were undecided.
Sixty-three percent of Hispanics polled said the economy in Nevada would be the same without undocumented workers, while 17 percent said it would be worse, 13 percent said it would be better and 7 percent weren't sure.
The margin of error among Hispanics is plus or minus 10 percentage points. It's higher than for the overall poll because fewer people were polled in this group.
An overwhelming majority of Nevadans support tougher penalties for employers who hire undocumented workers, according to the poll.
Overall, 89 percent said they would support tougher penalties. Among Hispanics, 85 percent said they would support tougher penalties.
"This is one of the immigration reform issues that people could easily come to an agreement on," Coker said.
Pollsters also asked Nevadans whether they would support amending the Constitution to deny automatic citizenship to children born in the United States to parents who are in the country illegally. The 14th Amendment guarantees citizenship for those born on U.S. soil.
A majority of Nevadans, 57 percent, said they would support an amendment denying automatic citizenship. Twenty-nine percent said they would oppose such an amendment, while 14 percent were undecided.
Among Hispanics, 45 percent said they would support amending the Constitution to deny automatic citizenship, while 40 percent said they would oppose it and 15 percent were undecided.
Hispanics who came to the United States legally or have been here for generations may see the issue differently than those whose families came more recently or without legal status, Coker said.
"There might be some resentment toward those who come to the U.S. and have a kid" who is automatically a citizen, he said.
The Migration Policy Institute, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., released a report this month saying the country's illegal immigrant population would grow by at least 5 million people in the next 40 years if birthright citizenship were repealed.
Denying citizenship to children born to illegal immigrants would increase the undocumented population from about 11 million to 16 million in 2050, the report said. It also would create generations of undocumented U.S.-born residents.
The analysis didn't consider factors such as changes in economic trends, immigration enforcement policies, birth rates and death rates.
Contact reporter Lynnette Curtis at firstname.lastname@example.org.