Immigration Challenge Picks its Best Shot in Public Opinion

It’s interesting that in its challenge to Arizona’s immigration law today the U.S. Department of Justice chose to focus chiefly on pre-emption of federal authority rather than on civil rights.

Heck, someone might even have read the polls.

The tack presumably takes what Justice sees as its best legal shot. But it also has the charm, from the administration’s perspective, of being the approach with the best chance of garnering public support. In our data, the prospect of a state-federal conflict is the more resonant concern.

Our June poll noted specifically that opponents of Arizona’s law “say it could violate civil rights and lead to racial profiling.” Nonetheless 58 percent of Americans said they support the law, given the counterargument that its proponents say it will help crack down on illegal immigration. There’s vast racial gap, mind you: Support for the measure ranges from 68 percent of whites to just 31 percent of nonwhites. Still, the net of 58 percent puts the administration's challenge on the short side of majority opinion.

But there’s more of a division overall on whether states should be allowed to make and enforce their own immigration laws (46 percent) or this should be left to federal jurisdiction (52 percent). On this whites split about evenly, 51-47 percent, while nonwhites favor federal jurisdiction by nearly 2-1.

These data suggest that if it were looking for a fighting chance in public opinion, the administration would do better by stressing the pre-emption argument. E voila: precisely the approach the Justice Department took today.

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