Looking at Immigration, Guest-Worker Plans in Arizona

Lora Villasenor, a senior research analyst at ThinkAZ, a non-partisan public policy research institute, discusses immigration issues in Arizona. At ThinkAZ, she conducts research and polls on immigration within the state, with a specific focus on guest-worker programs.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

President Bush gave his speech on immigration today in Arizona, where immigration is a hot-button issue. Lora Villasenor is a senior research analyst at ThinkAZ, a non-partisan public policy research institute in Phoenix, Arizona.

Welcome to the program.

What do Arizonans think should be done about illegal immigration?

Ms. LORA VILLASENOR (ThinkAZ): I would say that depends on the Arizonan you're talking about. But I would also say that Arizonans aren't happy with the status quo today, and I think Prop. 200, that was passed last year by Arizona voters, was evidence of that.

SIEGEL: Tell us about what Proposition 200 did in Arizona.

Ms. VILLASENOR: Basically, what Proposition 200 did was it restricted some public benefits for those people who couldn't demonstrate that they were legal residents, it required that they show proof of US citizenship to register to vote and then it required that you show identification when you actually vote at the polls. So those were the three different provisions of Proposition 200.

SIEGEL: And it won.

Ms. VILLASENOR: It won, by 56 percent of the vote.

SIEGEL: When Arizonans think about immigration from across the border, coming in from Mexico, are they thinking about people who come to live and avail themselves of services, or are they thinking about people who come to do jobs nobody else is doing in Arizona?

Ms. VILLASENOR: I think in Arizona there's a broad realization that folks are coming here illegally to work. And I think the evidence of that from my perspective is the fact that the majority of voters in Arizona support a guest worker program, and on top of that, they support initiatives directed at employers that would require employers to verify, you know, the identification of folks that are working for them, and they would penalize employers for employing undocumented immigrants. So I think that there's a broad realization that Arizona is a magnet for undocumented immigrants, or at least the labor market is.

SIEGEL: Do people in Arizona actually think that there is a likely solution somewhere at the horizon to the issue of illegal immigration, or is it simply--are people resigned to a fact of life that there are going to be millions crossing the border without proper documents?

Ms. VILLASENOR: The population in Arizona has exploded over the last 10 to 15 years to where today, about 10 percent of the people that live in the state of Arizona are undocumented immigrants and 97 percent of them are from Mexico. So I don't think folks in the state are resigned to the idea that there is no solution. And, in fact, I think Proposition 200 was a message to government--in fact, people told us that they were sending a message to government that if government doesn't do something about it, then the voters are willing to take it into their own hands.

SIEGEL: Is it an issue that cuts differently among different ethnic groups in Arizona?

Ms. VILLASENOR: Intuitively, I would think yes, but the numbers in the survey that we did illustrate that Proposition 200 won across every ethnic group, including Hispanics. So, you know, it appears that people are uniformly frustrated with the issue.

SIEGEL: One argument against programs that legalize the presence of people who are here illegally is that they will be perceived south of the border as another instance of Americans huffing and puffing a lot, but in the end, they'll make you legal. If you keep on getting in and you stay here, eventually you'll become legal. And that's something you commonly hear from Mexicans.

Ms. VILLASENOR: I think that's one component of it. This is a question that we also asked of voters, is whether or not they supported an amnesty program, and very few people supported it. I think it was a third of voters in our sample supported an amnesty program. And I think some of that is really born from the fact that, you know, we saw this amnesty program not so many years ago in 1986, and you can see the problem with illegal immigration today, so it's going to be hard to convince folks that that's a solution.

SIEGEL: Lora Villasenor, thank you very much for talking with us today.

Ms. VILLASENOR: Thank you so much. Have a good day.

SIEGEL: Lora Villasenor spoke to us from Phoenix, Arizona, where she is senior research analyst at the non-partisan public policy research institute ThinkAZ.

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