Poll: Most Americans think Arizona immigration law is "about right"

President Obama and Ariz. Gov. Jan Brewer have a history of strained relationships over Arizona's controversial immigration law. Norah O'Donnell reports on a recent testy exchange between the two. CBS/iStockphoto

Chart - New Arizona Law
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CBS News Poll analysis by the CBS News Polling Unit: Sarah Dutton, Jennifer De Pinto, Fred Backus and Anthony Salvanto.


Updated: June 8, 9:10 am ET

(CBS News) As the Supreme Court weighs a decision on Arizona's controversial immigration law this summer, a new CBS News/New York Times poll shows that more than half of Americans see the law as "about right."

The legislation, which was signed into law in April 2010, is considered among the most stringent immigration laws in the nation. It requires Arizona law enforcement members to check the citizenship status of anyone they believe appears to be an undocumented immigrant -- and has incited much controversy about whether or not it effectively legalizes racial profiling in a state with a heavy Latino population.

According to the survey, conducted from May 31-June 3 among 976 adults nationwide, 52 percent of Americans believe Arizona's immigration policy is about right, while 33 percent say it goes too far. Eleven percent say the law does not go far enough.

The U.S. Department of Justice is challenging the law on the grounds that it conflicts with what it contends is the federal government's exclusive right to set immigration laws for the country.

Most Americans seem to disagree. Sixty-two percent of respondents - and majorities of Republicans, Democrats, and independents - say both the federal government and state governments should be able to determine laws regarding undocumented immigrants. Twenty-five percent (30 percent of Democrats and 16 percent of Republicans) think such laws should be determined exclusively by the federal government, and 11 percent (4 percent of Democrats and 15 percent of Republicans) think they should be determined by state governments only.

As to what Americans think should happen to undocumented immigrants who are currently working in the U.S., 43 percent think they should be allowed to stay and apply for citizenship, 21 percent think they should be allowed only as guest workers, and 32 percent think they should required to leave the country. These percentages have been generally consistent for the past three years.

President Obama has criticized the Arizona legislation as a "misguided" law that "threatened to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and their communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe. "  The tensions between his position on the issue and that of Republican Arizona Governor Jan Brewer were highlighted earlier this year when the two engaged in a seemingly heated exchangewhen Mr. Obama arrived in Phoenix for a visit.

More from the poll:

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Poll: 60 percent oppose lifetime Supreme Court appointments
Read the complete poll (PDF)


This poll was conducted by telephone from May 31-June 3, 2012 among 976 adults nationwide. Phone numbers were dialed from samples of both standard land-line and cell phones. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. The error for subgroups may be higher. This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

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