Immigration Reform and the California Testing Ground

With the debt ceiling debate and the government shutdown that went with it, and now with the furor created by the health insurance marketplace and the number of Americans losing their existing health coverage as Obamacare ramps up, there has been very little national discourse about immigration reform in recent months.  However, all has not been quiet on the immigration front in my home state of California.  On the contrary, Governor Jerry Brown and the California State Legislature have been very active of late on the issue with a number of bills recently signed into law.  Since California often serves as the “testing ground” for new ideas and we know the rest of the country will be watching, I thought it would be beneficial to take a look at the new laws and see how they are currently viewed by Californians.

Among the bills recently signed into law by Governor Brown is the “Under the Trust Act” which makes it illegal for local law enforcement agencies to detain immigrants longer than necessary when arrested for misdemeanor crimes in order to allow federal authorities to take custody of them for possible deportation.  Governor Brown has also recently signed laws allowing people illegally in the country to receive California driver’s licenses, allowing illegals to be licensed as lawyers in the State, and making it a criminal offense for employers to threaten to report the residency status of their employees.

A new USC Dornslife/LA Times Poll conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner from October 30th through November 5th finds a California voting populace very mixed in its reaction to this slew of new immigration legislation coming out of Sacramento.  Among the 1350 likely voters interviewed in the survey, only the prohibition against employers using residency status to threaten their employees receives a majority support (55{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} favor and 34{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} oppose) while the new law allowing illegal residents to be licensed as lawyers in the State is very unpopular (36{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} favor and 59{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} oppose).  Support levels for the other two laws all range between forty-six percent (46{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) and fifty percent (50{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) which means voters as a whole are very divided on them.

While likely voters may be divided in their opinions, the Hispanic/Latino population is most certainly not.  A majority of them favor every one of the new laws.  From a high support level of seventy-seven percent (77{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) on the issue of drivers licenses to a low support level of fifty-four percent (54{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) on the “Trust Act,” the State’s Hispanic/Latino population is very much with California’s elected officials on this issue.  Sixty-five percent (65{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) of Latinos even favor the generally unpopular lawyer licensing law, and fifty percent (50{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) say they strongly favor this new law.

chart 1

We will ignore the two laws where likely voters have strong opinions in favor (preventing employers from threatening their employees with residency status) or against (allowing illegal immigrants to become licensed attorneys) and focus on the more contentious new laws, the “Under the Trust Act” (46{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} favor and 48{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} oppose) and the idea of giving drivers licenses to those living in California illegally (50{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} favor and 47{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} oppose).

When it comes to the “Under the Trust Act,” registered Republicans are very much against the law new with sixty-four percent (64{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) total in opposition and forty-nine percent (49{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) expressing their strong opposition.  Registered Democrats and Decline to State voters are much more mixed in their reactions (55{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} favor and 39{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} oppose among Democrats and 48{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} favor and 47{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} oppose among Decline to State voters).  There is also a small gender divide with men (45{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} favor and 51{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} oppose) and women (47{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} favor and 45{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} oppose) on opposite sides of the issue.  Finally, Californians are divided along age lines on the new law with voters under age 50 supporting the new law (51{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} favor and 45{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} oppose) and voters over age 50 opposing the new law (42{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} favor and 51{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} oppose).

Regarding the law allowing undocumented immigrants to have driver’s licenses in California, it is very much the seventy-three percent (73{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) of registered Republicans expressing their opposition, and a very strong sixty-two percent (62{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) expressing their strong opposition which makes overall public opinion look so divided.  Registered Democrats (69{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} favor and 27{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} oppose) feel much differently about this issue than their Republican counterparts.  A less pronounced gender split (50{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}/47{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} among men and 52{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}/45{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} among women) also exists on the driver’s license issue along with a slightly more pronounced age split (56{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}/43{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} under 50 and 47{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}/49{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} over 50).

Californians may be divided when it comes to these new immigration laws, but they are now state law, whether people like it or not.  It will be very interesting to sit back now and see how the new laws play out on the California testing ground in the coming months and years.

Public Opinion Strategies