Poll: Miami-Dade voters don’t want immigration crackdown

The overwhelming majority of Miami-Dade voters don't see illegal immigration as much of a problem and generally think the government should be worrying about other things, according to a new poll. But, by a small margin, they think Mayor Carlos Gimenez was right to order county jailers to cooperate with U.S. immigration authorities — a decision Gimenez took after President Trump threatened to cut federal money to cities that didn't comply.

Big majorities — generally cutting across ethnic and political lines — agreed that undocumented immigrants don’t take jobs from American citizens, aren’t any more likely to commit crimes than anybody else, and “contribute to American society,” according to the survey of 400 voters conducted last week by the Miami polling firm Bendixen & Amandi International.

And by a huge margin, the voters oppose either increased efforts to block the immigrants with a wall on the Mexican border or step up efforts to deport them.

The poll, commissioned by Miami auto magnate and political activist Norman Braman, was released Wednesday. It comes on the eve of a Friday deadline for approval of President Trump’s first budget. The numbers that emerge from the frantic budget negotiations may offer a clue about how resolutely Trump will pursue his oft-repeated campaign pledge to crack down on illegal immigration.

The poll suggests that, as far as Miami-Dade voters are concerned, the government should have other priorities. Fernand Amandi, who conducted the poll, said he was startled by both the breadth and depth of sympathy for undocumented immigrants.

“We know that Miami-Dade, in its ideological point of view, tends to skew Democratic,” he said. “But I was still surprised by these numbers. They were just overwhelming in their support for the undocumented and also on the specific policy issues, like the wall and deportations. There’s really a common consensus on this subject that often doesn’t exist in South Florida politics.”

Braman, though he has donated money to groups that defend undocumented immigrants facing deportation, told the Miami Herald that he commissioned the poll not for any particular purpose but because he just wanted to see “what the community is thinking.

“I’ve commissioned a lot of polls on various subjects over the years,” he said. “We’re told we have 250,000 undocumented people here [a study released in February made it 450,000 for Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties combined] so it seems like an issue where it’s important for government officials to know how the community feels about the issue.”

On most questions in the poll, the response was remarkably one-sided:

* 76 percent said undocumented immigrants don’t take jobs from American citizens.

* 78 percent said they commit crimes at the same rate, or less often, than other people.

* 80 percent favored let them stay and earn legal status rather than be deported — and the number rose to 91 percent for those who arrived in the United States as young children accompanying their parents.

But the poll also showed a pragmatic streak about putting federal aid to Miami-Dade at risk by defying President Trump’s order for local law enforcement to turn over prisoners accused of immigration violations for federal authorities. Forty-eight percent supported Gimenez’s decision to cooperate with Trump’s order, while 42 percent opposed it.

The results on immigration mostly held regardless of ethnicity or party affiliation, though whites, Republicans and people making more than $40,000 a year were slightly less sympathetic to immigrants than blacks, Hispanics, Democrats and independents, and those making under $40,000.

The most stark demographic disparity was on a question that had nothing to do with immigration. When asked to name “the most important problem facing Miami-Dade County,” the most common answer for whites (45 percent) and Hispanics (26 percent) was traffic congestion. That was a distant third among blacks, 45 percent of whom replied crime and drugs.

Follow Glenn Garvin on Twitter: @glenngarvin