71%: Immigration Is A Threat To The U.S.

71%: Immigration is a threat to U.S.

By Allison M. Heinrichs
Wednesday, September 6, 2006

Thirty years ago, Michelle Newman served drinks to celebrities and politicians jetting across the country in private planes.

These days, Newman, 62, of Miami, doesn't fly much, and wouldn't consider doing the job of a flight attendant.

“I worry,” she said. “Flying is a way terrorists get in and take us down. Knowing their determination to kill us all, I worry.”

A national poll commissioned by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and conducted by Susquehanna Polling and Research shows that five years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Americans are more aware of people from foreign countries and believe illegal immigrants pose a threat to the United States, particularly as terrorists.

The poll found 71 percent of people believe illegal immigration poses a threat to the country, and 31 percent of those people think the biggest threat from illegal immigrants is terrorism. More than half — 56 percent — said they are more aware of people from foreign countries.

“I tend to take a closer look at people who don't look like they're from here — not necessarily to judge them, but from a safety standpoint,” said Michael Merrit, 49, of Houston. “You never know what people's intentions are.”

Richard Delgado, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh and co-author of a book, “The Politics of Fear,” said politicians inflate people's fear of illegal immigrants and awareness of foreigners.

“It's cultural,” he said. “Our political system whips up fear. Fear of foreigners, fear of terror, fear of the unknown is a great way to bond people to a national leader.”

Steve McCraw, director of homeland security for Texas, said there is real reason for Americans to be concerned about terrorists sneaking into the United States through Mexico.

“Since the events of 9/11, Americans have been appropriately concerned about the ability of foreign nationals from countries with known al-Qaida presence to leverage Mexican organized crime capabilities to enter the U.S. undetected,” he said in recent congressional testimony. “Mexican organized crime is motivated by money, and they do not vet paying customers.”

In May, President Bush proposed a $5.8 billion initiative, “Operation Jump Start,” aimed at reducing the number of illegal immigrants entering the U.S. from Mexico by hiring 6,000 Border Patrol agents, using sophisticated surveillance gear and building more high fences in urban areas. House and Senate members are working on a compromise bill to send to the White House.

The Trib's poll also asked if people think a national identification card for Americans would help curb terrorism. A minority of those surveyed — 39 percent — said it would, while 47 percent didn't think it would help and 14 percent were undecided. The survey of 1,000 people was done July 11-18. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

By 2008, a law that grew out of a recommendation by the Sept. 11 Commission to standardize state driver's licenses, would require states to verify documents such as passports, Social Security cards and birth certificates when people apply for licenses. The licenses must be machine readable.

“I don't think it will make any difference with terrorism, because terrorists will just make them artificially or sneak in,” said George Boyman, 75, who lives five miles from the Mexico border in Bisbee, Ariz.

He once watched “the grass come alive” as several people — illegal immigrants, he believes — jumped from hiding places in the tall weeds along his street and sped off in a Jeep. Still, he said he doesn't fear illegal immigrants and doesn't think that attempting to stop them from coming would protect the country from terrorists.

“It doesn't bother me one way or the other, as long as they mind their business,” he said.

Allison M. Heinrichs can be reached at aheinrichs@tribweb.com or (412) 380-5607.