Newswise — Get your huddled masses the heck out of here. That's the message many New Yorkers are sending to illegal immigrants, according to a statewide policy survey by Cornell University.
New York state has a centuries-old reputation for welcoming immigrants, embodied by the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor and the words inside her base by poet Emma Lazarus: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free."
But views statewide on national immigration policy appear to be changing -- with New Yorkers holding a wide range of sometimes contradictory views about illegal immigrants.
The 2006 Empire State Poll of a representative group of New Yorkers by the Survey Research Institute (SRI) in Cornell's School of Industrial and Labor Relations reveals these opinions: About 72 percent of all state residents say that entering the United States without valid immigration documents should be made a criminal offense; two-thirds of the state's residents strongly support border controls; 45 percent think the number of immigrants in New York should remain the same; and 45 percent want the number to decrease.
At the same time, 87 percent support a guest worker program that allows foreigners to work in the United States for a limited time. And 70 percent support "giving amnesty to persons already in the United States so that they can stay here and work."
New York state's more than 19 million residents include about 650,000 undocumented immigrants, more than in any other state except Florida, Texas and California, according to a recent report by the Pew Hispanic Center.
The 2006 Empire State Poll found that New Yorkers' views, predictably, often divide along political, racial, economic and geographic lines. Republicans are much more supportive of restrictions on immigration than Democrats. Whites are much more likely than Hispanics to favor restrictions, while the views of African-Americans on immigration restrictions fall between the two. In addition, wealthy residents are more likely than poor ones to favor immigration restrictions, and upstate residents are more likely than downstaters to support such restrictions.
Most of those surveyed when the poll was conducted in February said they are not especially well-informed about national immigration policy.
Cornell SRI's Empire State Poll is a yearly poll on New York state residents' views. This year's findings were based on 800 interviews of a random sample of residents 18 years and older. The sampling was equally divided between upstate and downstate residents and weighted to reflect actual distribution of people in the state.