By News producer
NBC News
updated 10/28/2010 12:35:50 PM ET 2010-10-28T16:35:50

Hispanics are more worried about discrimination and more divided over how to handle unauthorized immigration, according to a poll released Thursday by the Pew Hispanic Center.

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“The national political backlash against illegal immigration has created new divisions among Latinos and heightened their concerns about discrimination,” Pew analysts said in a report released with the poll.

Mark Lopez, associate director of the Pew Hispanic Center and the report's co-author, believes the rising concern comes in part from media reports about what could happen in the future.

"There's been a lot of discussion in the media about the potential impacts of different policies that have been proposed, such as Arizona's law and how that might affect immigrants — and how it affects Latinos," he said. "But we've noticed no change and, frankly, Arizona's law has not been implemented."

Illegal immigration divide
Hispanics are split over illegal immigration. Just over half (53 percent) of those polled say that unauthorized immigrants should pay a fine but not be deported, about a third (28 percent) think they should not be punished, and 13 percent say they should be deported.

And six-in-ten Hispanics now think discrimination is a “major problem,” up from 54 percent in 2007. Latinos now cite “immigration status” as the biggest reason for discrimination (36 percent), a sharp change from three years ago.  In 2007, almost half of Latinos cited “language skills” as the biggest source of discrimination.  

About half of Hispanics think Americans are less accepting of immigrants than they were five years ago. In fact, a third of Hispanics say that in the past five years, either they or someone close to them has experienced discrimination “because of their race or ethnic group.”  However, only 5 percent of Latinos reported being stopped by authorities and asked about their immigration status, less than in 2008, when the number was 9 percent.         

Half of Latinos worry “a lot” or “some” that they, a family member or a close friend could be deported, and about a third of Hispanics know of someone who has been detained or deported in the past year.

Nearly three-in-four Hispanics do not approve of workplace raids, and more than six-in-ten disapprove of building fences on the borders. However, a majority of Latinos (58 percent) approve of a proposal that would require all U.S. residents to carry a national identity card.

Increased divisions over immigration impact
U.S. Latinos are almost evenly divided on the impact of illegal immigration. About one out of three say illegal immigration has been positive (29 percent), about one in three say it has been negative (31 percent) and about one in three thinks it has made no difference (30 percent).

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This is a marked change from a few years ago.  In 2007, half of Latinos thought the impact of illegal immigration was positive, while only 20 percent thought it was negative.   

Latinos are also divided on whether immigrant and native-born Latinos are working together to achieve common goals. About half (45 percent) agree, the other half (46 percent) say they are not. 

There were some marked differences between the responses of native-born Latinos and foreign-born Latinos. Whereas seven-in-ten foreign-born Hispanics say discrimination “is a major problem preventing Latinos from succeeding in America,” less than half (49 percent) of the native-born agree. And while 85 percent of foreign-born Hispanics think that immigrants strengthen the country, less than 70 percent of native-born Hispanics agree.

Wide agreement on other issues 
However, a high number of Hispanics, 86 percent, support providing a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, as long as they pass background checks, pay a fine and have a job.

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On birthright citizenship, nearly eight-in-ten Latinos think the United States constitution should not be changed, compared to over half (56 percent) of the general U.S. public.  And more than 3 out of 4 Hispanics say federal authorities should handle immigration matters, not local law enforcement. Furthermore, almost eight-in-ten (79 percent) of Hispanics disapproved of the Arizona law enacted this year.

“The survey presents a mixed set of findings regarding Latinos and their views on immigrants and immigration policy,” said Lopez.

“On the one hand, there is broad agreement about many policy proposals. Latinos are largely for a path to citizenship, and don’t want to change the constitution. But Hispanics are also divided on what to do with unauthorized immigrants and they are more evenly divided about the impact of unauthorized immigration on the Latinos in the U.S. compared with three years ago. Then their assessment was more positive,” said Lopez.

Latinos are still very positive about some things — three quarters of Hispanics think their lives are “excellent” or “good,” and eight-in-ten still think opportunities are better in the United States than in their native countries.

On U.S. politics, Latinos gave Democrats much better marks than Republicans on the subject of immigration. Half of Latinos (51 percent) say they trust the Democratic agenda more; only 19 percent of Hispanics are more confident in the Republicans. 

However, the “American dream” is still first and foremost in Hispanics’ lives; according to the report, education, jobs and health care were bigger priorities for Latinos than immigration.

The survey of 1,375 Latino adults was conducted in Spanish and English via cell and landline phones between Aug. 17 and Sept. 19. The margin of error for the poll was 3.3 percent.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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