Battleground Arizona: Focus group reveals stark divide on immigration, family separation

Extended edition: immigration focus group

Voters' views of family separation at the border reveal deeper divisions about immigration and immigrants themselves, hinging on partisan affiliation and their views of President Trump, according to a new CBS News Battleground Tracker Poll. This dynamic that was evident in a focus group of Arizona voters led by CBS News political correspondent Ed O'Keefe, who sat down with two Republicans and two Democrats as news of families being separated at the border continued to dominate headlines. 

The Battleground Tracker survey found that Mr. Trump's staunchest supporters view the separation policy dramatically more favorably while supporting punishment for illegal entrants and expressing more skepticism than the population as a whole that stories of family separation are accurate. Those divisions were seen among the four focus group participants in Arizona. 

"My concern is immigration, that we have some people that believe we should have open borders. And we're being inundated with people from all over the world that come across that border, and we don't know anything about them, and a lot of people have lost their lives on account of them MS13," said Pete, a Republican and a supporter of Mr. Trump.

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Democrats and Republicans have diverging opinions about how to treat immigrants crossing the border illegally. CBS News

Corine, a Democrat, said coverage of children being separated from their families "breaks my heart. You know, a woman can't watch that without feeling, you know, a desire to to stop that." Corine said she was concerned "that there doesn't seem to be a lot of quality people in the high positions that are familiar with the way our government runs," both in the administration and in Congress.

Cristina, also a Democrat, called Washington a "confused battlefield" where polarization leaves little room to find common ground.

"The news changes every day, and I think that the narrative that's being brought out is very -- we're on very polar opposite sides," Cristina told O'Keefe. "I think it's dangerous in the current state that it is. I think it's dangerous for the country's health overall, politically ... When you're dealing with somebody like Trump, the issue that happens there is that, coming out of the gate, there's so much toxicity in the statements that are made."

Michael, a Republican, said he sympathized with immigrants crossing the border, but emphasized the need to enforce the law and secure the border.

"I kind of see both sides of it, you know. I see the absolute humanitarian aspect of like wanting to help the people out," he said. "But then the same or the opposite side of that coin, you know, trying to keep our own citizens safe."

The CBS News Battleground Tracker found that Republicans -- in particular the president's strongest backers -- are the most likely to say that at least some of those trying to enter are criminals or gang members, and 30 percent say most of them are. By contrast, Democrats describe most immigrants as mostly people looking for jobs, or mostly trying to flee violence elsewhere.  

To see more of the focus group discussion, tune in to "Face the Nation" on Sunday.