Immigration Poll Ends in Knockout

September 4, 2008

Our poll Undocumented or Illegal? generated a lopsided response. The question, again, was how Chicago Public Radio should refer to U.S. residents who lack proper papers to be in the country. Almost 90 percent of the 2,004 votes showed support for "illegal alien" instead of either "illegal immigrant" or "undocumented immigrant." Along with the votes came a torrent of comments urging tougher policies against those newcomers. These results puzzled me. Since arriving at the station a couple years ago, I've seen big crowds calling for legalization of the unauthorized immigrants. Hundreds of thousands have marched through Chicago's Loop for that cause. But when I go to a local pro-enforcement event, I've never seen more than a couple hundred participants. Rosanna Pulido of the Illinois Minuteman Project says our poll results show pent-up support for cracking down on illegal aliens. "We've known this all along," Pulido says. "But the media won't take our side seriously. I've been interviewed 30 times. I'll get a sentence and the other side will get five paragraphs. The public isn't stupid. There is a fury from being ignored." A different explanation comes from Eric Ward of the Chicago-based Center for New Community. "The anti-immigrant movement spars above its weight class," he says. "It floods comment sections and letters-to-the-editor columns. The impression flies in the face of scientific polling by the Pew Hispanic Center, Gallup and others that shows most people want realistic solutions to immigration problems and don't embrace an enforcement-only strategy." Ward's boxing metaphor holds up through some Web searching. Our poll led to dozens of posts on pro-enforcement sites such as Fire Society, Free Republic and Americans for Legal Immigration-Political Action Committee. Many of the posts included rallying cries such as this one at ALI-PAC: "Everyone go vote: Let's tell this sanctuary city, super ultra-liberal channel what we think. Maybe City Hall will pick up on it too." But I couldn't find a mention of our poll on any pro-legalization sites. Does the immigrant-rights movement spar under its weight class? Comments are welcome.
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