Taubman Center Public Opinion Survey

Rhode Islanders divided on immigrants and immigration policy

March 7, 2011  |  Media Contact: Deborah Baum |  401-863-2476
The first wave of a multistate survey on immigration issues found that Rhode Islanders are split on Arizona-style immigration laws but have a consensus when it comes to educating immigrant children. The survey was conducted in conjunction with the Taubman Center’s “Immigrants and Immigration in the 21st Century” symposium, scheduled for Saturday, March 12, at Brown University.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — A new Brown University survey of Rhode Island residents finds deep divisions on the subjects of immigration and immigrant assimilation but strong support for education programs for the children of immigrants, including undocumented children.

The survey was conducted in two waves, in November 2010 and February 2011, by researchers at the A. Alfred Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Institutions and the John Hazen White Public Opinion Laboratory at Brown University. It is based on a statewide random sample of 508 Rhode Island residents. Overall, the poll has a margin of error of about plus or minus 4.3 percentage points. Supported by a grant from the Rhode Island Foundation, the survey is designed to provide a baseline of public opinion in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut on issues related to immigration.

According to the findings, the differences in opinion on the subject of immigrants and immigrant assimilation often followed party lines, but some opinions are shared regardless of party affiliation. Republicans, more so than Democrats or independents, tended to express weariness and concern about the presence of immigrants in the state and supported measures that would enable state and local police to enforce federal immigration law targeting undocumented immigrants.

Other major findings:

  • Rhode Islanders are split on Arizona-type immigration law and its likely effectiveness in limiting undocumented immigration: Half of the state’s residents, 54 percent, support the enactment of a law similar to the one passed in Arizona last year. The Arizona law required local police to enforce federal immigration laws and arrest anyone who is present in the country without proper documentation. Support for Arizona-type measures is strong among Republicans (76 percent favor) but less so among Democrats (44 percent). Rhode Islanders are equally split on the effectiveness of such a law with 42 percent saying it will force undocumented immigrants out of the state and an equal proportion, 41 percent, believing it will not do so.
  • Most Rhode Islanders believe there are drawbacks to Arizona-style laws: Despite the support for Arizona-style measures, large majorities recognize the drawbacks of such legislation: 72 percent say it will discourage immigrants from reporting crimes, 71 percent believe that incidents of racial profiling will increase, and 69 percent expect that legal residents and citizens will be stopped and questioned by the police. Furthermore, 44 percent anticipate high economic costs related to the implementation of such a measure.
  • Half of Rhode Islanders approve immigration enforcement by state and local police: Half of Rhode Islanders, 55 percent, believe that police should be able to check the citizenship and immigration status of all people, including citizens. More than one-third, 38 percent, disagree with the idea of involving police in immigration enforcement.
  • The majority of Rhode Islanders see no difference between immigrants and American citizens in terms of social values: More than half of the state’s residents, 59 percent, believe that today’s immigrants have the same values as American citizens. Nearly three-fourths, 72 percent, of Democrats compared to 55 percent of Republicans and 54 percent of independents believe that the values of immigrants and Americans are the same.
  • State residents are neutral on immigrants, preferring to see them neither as a strength nor as a weakness: Almost two-thirds of Rhode Islanders (62 percent) say that immigrants are not a burden on state resources. At the same time, 80 percent think that immigrants do not strengthen the state either.
  • Immigrants should change to blend in: Seven of 10 Rhode Islanders believe that immigrants should change so they blend more into American society, and it is immigrants themselves who believe in the importance of assimilation more so than U.S.-born Rhode Islanders: 78 percent of foreign-born Rhode Islanders say immigrants should change to blend in, while only 69 percent of U.S.-born citizens express the same view.
  • Not everyone has to speak English: Only 34 percent of the state’s residents think that it is very important for everyone in the country to speak English. Democrats (53 percent) more so than Republicans (36 percent) object to requiring that everyone speak English.
  • Rhode Islanders show strong consensus on issues of immigrant education: 83 percent support programs for teaching immigrant children English, and 68 percent support extending in-state tuition rates to undocumented immigrant children who graduate from Rhode Island high schools.

The release of the Rhode Island data comes in conjunction with the Taubman Center’s “Immigrants and Immigration in the 21st Century” symposium, scheduled for Saturday, March 12, at 10 a.m. at Brown University. Thomas J. Tobin, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence, will deliver a keynote address. President Ruth J. Simmons of Brown University will also address the symposium. Other community leaders and state officials are scheduled to participate. The  symposium will be held in MacMillan Hall, 167 Thayer St., Room 117, beginning at 10 a.m. It is open to the public. More information on the conference is available online from the Taubman Center.

Questions and answers

  1. In the last five years, do you think that the number of immigrants in your neighborhood has a) increased a lot/increased somewhat, 38%; b) stayed the same, 48%; c) decreased a lot/decreased somewhat, 8%; d) don’t know, 7%.
  2. In your understanding from what you have read and heard, what percent of the population in the state today is made up of illegal immigrants? a) 1-5 percent, 19%; b) 6-10 percent, 17%; c) 11-15 percent, 11%; d) 16-20 percent, 8%; e) 21-25 percent, 6%; f) 26-30 percent, 6%; g) 31 percent or more, 12%; h) don’t know, 21%. [The average response, not including people who gave no response, was 14.5%.]
  3. For each of the following statements, do you strongly agree, agree somewhat, neither agree nor disagree, disagree somewhat, or strongly disagree?
    1. Immigrants should change so they blend into American society: a) strongly agree/agree, 70%; b) neither agree nor disagree, 11%; c) disagree/strongly disagree, 19%.
    2. Immigrants today have the same values as American-born citizens: a) strongly agree/agree, 59%; b) neither agree nor disagree, 19%; c) disagree/strongly disagree, 22%.
    3. It would be a good thing for our state if fewer people from Mexico and Latin America move here: a) strongly agree/agree, 47%; b) neither agree nor disagree, 11%; c) disagree/strongly disagree, 42%.
    4. Immigrants make our state more open to new ideas and cultures: a) strongly agree/agree, 41%; b) neither agree nor disagree, 20%; c) disagree/strongly disagree, 39%.
    5. Illegal immigrants do not become citizens because they benefit from being illegal: a) strongly agree/agree, 40%; b) neither agree nor disagree, 19%; c) disagree/strongly disagree, 41%.
    6. Immigrants today have the same values as previous generations of immigrants: a) strongly agree/agree, 35%; b) neither agree nor disagree, 16%; c) disagree/strongly disagree, 49%.
    7. It is very important that everyone in the United States speaks English: a) strongly agree/agree, 34%; b) neither agree nor disagree, 17%; c) disagree/strongly disagree, 49%.
    8. Legal immigrants should have the same rights as American citizens: a) strongly agree/agree, 19%; b) neither agree nor disagree, 15%; c) disagree/strongly disagree, 66%.
    9. Most crimes in our state involve immigrants: a) strongly agree/agree, 18%; b) neither agree nor disagree, 22%; c) disagree/strongly disagree, 60%.
    10. Immigrants today are a burden on our state because they take our jobs, housing and healthcare: a) strongly agree/agree, 17%; b) neither agree nor disagree, 21%; c) disagree/strongly disagree, 62%.
    11. Immigrants strengthen our state because of their hard work and talents: a) strongly agree/agree, 10%; b) neither agree nor disagree, 9%; c) disagree/strongly disagree, 80%.
    12. Schools in our state should offer specialized programs for teaching English to children whose first language is not English: a) strongly agree/agree, 83%; b) neither agree nor disagree, 7%; c) disagree/strongly disagree, 10%.
    13. Police in our state should be able to check the citizenship and immigration status of all people including citizens: a) strongly agree/agree, 55%; b) neither agree nor disagree, 7%; c) disagree/strongly disagree, 38%.
    14. Illegal immigrant children attending college in our state should be charged a higher tuition rate at state colleges and universities: a) strongly agree/agree, 23%; b) neither agree nor disagree, 9%; c) disagree/strongly disagree, 68%.
  4. Are you aware of the illegal immigration law that was recently passed in Arizona? a) Yes, 71%; b) No, 29%.
  5. How much do you support or oppose the approach that Arizona is taking on immigration? a) strongly support, 32%; b) somewhat support, 22%; c) neither support nor oppose, 10%; d) somewhat oppose, 14%; e) strongly oppose, 23%.
  6. How likely do you think it is that each of the following things may happen if the Arizona law is passed in our state?
    1. Immigrants will be less likely to report crimes to the police: a) very likely/likely, 72%; b) neither likely nor unlikely, 12%; c) unlikely/very unlikely, 16%.
    2. Incidents of racial profiling will increase: a) very likely/likely, 71%; b) neither likely nor unlikely, 11%; c) unlikely/very unlikely, 17%.
    3. People who are legal residents or citizens will be stopped and questioned by the police: a) very likely/likely, 69%; b) neither likely nor unlikely, 12%; c) unlikely/very unlikely, 19%.
    4. Most illegal immigrants will leave our state: a) very likely/likely, 42%; b) neither likely nor unlikely, 13%; c) unlikely/very unlikely, 46%.
  7. Do you think that the economic costs associated with such a law would be a) extremely high/somewhat high, 44%; b) moderate, 35%; c) somewhat low/extremely low, 12%.
  8. If the Arizona law were enacted in our state, how much would you support or oppose a tax increase to pay for additional police to enforce immigration law? a) strongly support/somewhat support, 54%; b) neither support nor oppose, 10%, c) somewhat oppose/ strongly oppose, 36%.
Editors: Brown University has a fiber link television studio available for domestic and international live and taped interviews, and maintains an ISDN line for radio interviews. For more information, call (401) 863-2476.