Texans are roughly split over the issue of so-called sanctuary cities, with 49 percent of respondents to a state survey saying they oppose them and 45 percent supporting them.
The results from the Texas Lyceum poll, released Tuesday, were more complicated for questions that waded into the details of one area of the debate over sanctuary cities, a name for local jurisdictions where officials decline to participate in federal immigration enforcement: whether officers should be allowed to ask subjects about their immigration status.
While 93 percent of Texas adults support checking the immigration status of people who have been arrested by local law enforcement officials, only 44 percent said officers should be able to check immigration status during a routine traffic stop. Even fewer people said they should be able to investigate immigration status for people who are reporting a crime or were witnesses to one.
Those findings appear to bolster recent changes made to Senate Bill 4, the measure being pushed by Republicans in the Legislature to ban sanctuary cities. In the original Senate-approved version of the bill by state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, police and sheriff’s departments would face stiff penalties if they prohibit their officers from inquiring about subjects’ immigration status.
The House State Affairs Committee, however, last week approved a version that would allow departments to prevent their officers from asking about immigration status during traffic stops or other routine interactions. It would still ban departments from preventing officers from checking the immigration status of people who have been arrested.
The annual poll conducted by the Texas Lyceum, a nonprofit association for young Texas leaders, surveys 1,000 adults, not just registered or likely voters. Because Texas Republicans have higher voter participation rates than the population as a whole, the annual Lyceum poll tends to portray a less conservative state than most political polls do. The poll’s overall margin of error is 3.1 percentage points.
This year, the Lyceum focused on immigration and border security issues, which respondents in past years have ranked as the No. 1 issue facing Texas. The results show “a fair amount of consensus over how we move forward from this in a way that current political rhetoric just totally misses,” said Joshua Blank, who managed the poll.
“Despite the fact that immigration and border security is this perpetual concern and despite the large concern people have over illegal immigration, the fact is Texas adults as a whole still see immigration as a good thing,” said Blank, the manager of polling and research for the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas.
While the results for many questions confirmed expectations of the partisan divide over immigration issues — with Republicans favoring stricter enforcement than Democrats — about 90 percent of respondents from both parties said they favored “allowing illegal immigrants living in the U.S. the opportunity to become citizens after a long waiting period if they pay taxes and a penalty, pass a criminal background check, and learn English.”
Blank cautioned that the result for that question, which reflected parts of the failed 2013 “Gang of Eight” immigration reform bill, would likely be different if the survey didn’t include details on the “punitive” measures of the proposal, such as having unauthorized immigrants pay a penalty to obtain legal status, or if the poll used politically charged wording like “amnesty” or “pathway to citizenship.”
It is common, Blank said, for survey respondents to say they oppose well-known pieces of legislation while separately saying they support many or all of its provisions.
Sixty-two percent of respondents said they don’t want President Donald Trump’s administration to deport millions of unauthorized immigrants, as he has promised to do, while 61 percent said they oppose his plan to construct a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last year, 59 percent said they were against the wall.
One issue where there has been a notable change in opinion was the question of whether students brought to the United States as children should be allowed to pay in-state tuition rates at Texas colleges and universities, as they do now under a law adopted by the Legislature in 2001.
Sixty-one percent of Texans said they supported continuing the in-state tuition policy, while 31 percent wanted to have unauthorized immigrants pay out-of-state rates. Six years ago, the last time the Lyceum included the question in its poll, only 52 percent supported the 2001 law, and 43 percent opposed it.