AUSTIN -- From Republicans to Democrats, Texas politicians from both parties are demanding action in the wake of what each has called a human crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border.
On Monday, Republican nominee for governor and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott appeared in San Antonio with Sen. Ted Cruz to blast the Obama administration over the issue. Democratic nominee for governor and state Sen. Wendy Davis appeared in McAllen after addressing a letter to Gov. Rick Perry requesting a special called session of the Texas Legislature to address the crisis. Perry himself appeared in Weslaco, less than a week after announcing $1.3 million in emergency funding for Texas Department of Public Safety border security efforts.
Poll numbers released last week by the University of Texas and the Texas Tribune suggests Texas voters overwhelmingly believe immigration and border security are the biggest problems facing the state. The poll surveyed registered voters between May 30 and June 8, well before the crisis of unaccompanied children crossing into the U.S. illegally became major national news. Aside from asking voters the biggest problems facing the state, the survey also asked for opinions on various issues -- including many related to immigration.
One question asked whether "illegal immigrants who have graduated from Texas high schools and lived in the state for at least a year receive in-state tuition rates at Texas public colleges and universities, or should they have to pay the higher tuition rate for out of-state students?"
Nearly half responded in opposition to offering the in-state tuition rate, with 49 percent answering they should pay the out out-of-state tuition rate. While 34 percent answered in support of the in-state tuition rate, 17 percent said they didn't know or had no opinion. The numbers also reflect a wide split on the issue between Democrats and Republicans in a traditionally conservative state.
"What we're seeing is a pattern that we've seen before, where there's a certain amount of skepticism about providing in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrants," said pollster and Professor James R. Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas. "Democrats are largely in favor of providing in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrants that meet certain criteria. Republicans are against it in significant numbers.
Asked whether they agree or disagree with the statement "most immigrants pay their fair share of taxes," 56 percent of voters said they somewhat or strongly disagree. Just 36 percent either somewhat or strongly agreed, with 9 percent replying they don't know. A full 73 percent of voters somewhat or strongly agreed that government should "restrict and control people coming to live in the U.S. more than we do now," with 21 percent somewhat or strongly disagreeing.
"The takeaway here is that when you ask people more conventional questions about immigration having to do with the current political debate, it reflects very much the tone of the debate in Texas, which is much more restrictive on immigration, much more restrictive on any benefits for illegal immigrants and a desire to cut down the rate of immigration, illegal and otherwise," said Henson.
In the same survey, 60 percent somewhat or strongly agreed with the statement that "newcomers from other countries enrich Texas with their hard work and values," with just 31 percent somewhat or strongly disagreeing.
"When you ask about 'newcomers' and 'hard work,' what you do is you trigger at least in some Texans a kind of social acceptability effect," explained Henson. "People have a sense that if you're not talking specifically about immigration, there's a socially correct answer there, but when you make it a little bit more direct, you default to the answers that look a little bit more like we would expect."
Finally, 54 percent somewhat or strongly agree that all undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. should be deported immediately, compared to 30 percent who somewhat or strongly disagree. Digging into the numbers, Henson says the responses all show a sharp divide.
"You see lots of partisan structure here," said Henson. "Democrats are much less restrictive on immigration, but Republicans are very restrictive and especially the most conservative Republicans who will self-identify as Tea party."
Go here for full UT/TT poll results.