Texans remain sharply divided over immigration overhaul

A narrow majority of registered Texas voters would favor an overhaul of federal immigration law that included a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants already in the U.S., according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Opposition to that sort of change is strong, too, at 44 percent.

“Support for comprehensive immigration reform increased by 6 points since our last poll” in October, said James Henson, co-director of the poll and head of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. He said the changes coincide with a national debate on the subject but don’t necessarily point to a coming change in state politics.

“That conversation is affecting some Republican attitudes,” he said. “But the change in the long-term trend is happening too slowly to influence the conversation in the primaries. We’re seeing movement, but it’s slow.”

Asked about college tuition for illegal immigrants who graduated from Texas high schools and lived in the state for at least a year, 47 percent said they should pay rates charged to out-of-state students, and 40 percent said those students should pay in-state rates at Texas public colleges and universities. The state’s Republican lawmakers approved in-state tuition for those students in 2001, and Gov. Rick Perry defended it when he was running for president in 2011. Their voters have moved, however.

Immigration proposals are being crafted in Congress, but House Speaker John Boehner has said passage of an overhaul this year is a long shot at best.

“The harder-line element in the Republican Party has been pretty vociferous, and they’ve reached some of the other Republicans out there,” said Daron Shaw, a professor of government at UT Austin and co-director of the poll.

And 47 percent of Texans would rather have local and state authorities enforce immigration laws than the federal government, whereas 40 percent say primary responsibility should fall on the federal government.

Other issues

In what might surprise state and local officeholders, only 30 percent of the respondents say the state’s roads and highways are “not very good” or “terrible.” Most rated them either “good,” 59 percent, or “excellent,” which got 9 percent. Urban and suburban residents were slightly more likely than rural residents to give the roads bad grades.

The majority of registered voters have favorable opinions of the state’s photo voter identification law, which is in effect for the current primary elections. Well over half — 66 percent — have favorable impressions of the law, including 51 percent who said their opinions were “very favorable.” Only 22 percent said they have unfavorable opinions.

Beneath the numbers is a deep partisan divide. Democrats are split, with 40 percent registering favorable opinions of the law and 46 percent saying they view it unfavorably. Among Republicans, 83 percent favor the law; among those who identify with the Tea Party, that rises to 96 percent.