WASHINGTON-As the Supreme Court weighs Arizona's immigration law after hearing arguments April 25, polls show that support for laws like it is growing even though illegal immigration is down and dropping.
An April Quinnipiac poll showed that 68 percent of registered voters nationally approved of the Arizona law, while only 27 percent disapproved. That approval number is up by 17 percent from Quinnipiac's polls in 2010. Quinnipiac's results have been affirmed elsewhere: A Fox poll in April showed 65 percent national approval of the law, too. A Pew Research Center poll in 2011 showed 61 percent of the public supported Arizona's law.
Polls have also found interesting complexity in that support within Arizona: 60 percent of Arizonans support Arizona's immigration law, S.B. 1070, according to a Morrison Institute for Public Policy poll that came out April 26. But in that poll 65 percent of Arizonans also supported the DREAM Act, which provides a path to citizenship for children of illegal immigrants who go to college or join the military.
Even without Arizona's law in force-due to courts blocking the central portions-illegal immigration has dropped. Border Patrol in Arizona reported a 40 percent drop in the number of illegal immigrant arrests last year. And nationally, more Mexicans are leaving the United States than entering for the first time since the Depression, according to a new study by the Pew Hispanic Center. The study estimated that 6.1 million Mexicans were living in the United States illegally in 2011, down from 7 million in 2007. Most illegal immigrants in the United States are from Mexico.
The causes of the migration reversal are up for debate but the Pew study said it was the result of a poor economy in the United States, increased deportation rates, tighter border security, and low Mexican birthrates. Mexican drug cartels along the border also are targeting migrants attempting to get to the United States. The Pew study expects the lower migration trend to continue-the heavy migration from Mexico to the United States of the 1990s and 2000s is a thing of the past.
The April 25 arguments on Arizona's immigration law were the last of the Supreme Court's term, and in many ways paralleled the historic healthcare case in March. Arizona v. United States pitted the same two lawyers against each other: Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. and Paul Clement, who was solicitor general during the Bush administration. Dozens of state attorneys general filed briefs in favor and against Arizona's laws; religious groups took sides, holding vigils; and chanting crowds packed in front of the steps of the court-all similar to the healthcare case.
The justices seemed to view it as historic also, granting the lawyers a rare extra half hour to argue their position.
Justice Elena Kagan wasn't present. She recused herself because she served as the former solicitor general in the Obama administration. If the court's vote ends up tied 4-4, then the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' decision to overturn most of the law would remain in force.
The court will decide the case sometime in the next two months, and the decision will have a wide impact because over the last two years a number of states-Utah, Alabama, Indiana, Georgia, and South Carolina-have passed similar immigration laws and have faced similar legal challenges.