Poll: Immigrants meet increasing acceptance

/ Source: The Associated Press

Public acceptance of immigrants has grown in the U.S. and several European countries over the last few years at a time of immigrant riots, humanitarian crises and heated debates aimed at limiting migration.

AP-Ipsos polling found more tolerance for immigrants now than two years ago in the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain.

In the U.S. and Australia, just over half said immigrants are good for their country. In Canada — where immigrants are actively recruited — three-fourths said immigrants are a good influence.

“The population of immigrants is increasing dramatically,” said Fred Bemak, a George Mason University professor who studies the impact of immigration. “When it’s the person next door, it changes the tone.”

In fact, the changes in public sentiment over the last two years came in a shift from a number of people who didn’t know how they felt in 2004 to more people feeling immigrants are a good influence. The separate polls of about 1,000 adults in each of the eight countries were conducted between May 1-22 and have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

‘Decent people overall’
“I consider them hardworking, honest, decent people overall,” said Richard Paramoure, a semiretired resident of Taunton, Mass. “They definitely work harder, because their lives are a struggle. There are very few rich immigrants. They’ve got to establish themselves. They want what they see around them.”

The polling also found:

  • Fears about immigrants being involved in crime are higher in the European countries than in the United States.
  • Many of those polled in all eight countries said immigrants work as hard or harder than people born in those countries.
  • In most of the countries, people who made higher incomes and had more education were more likely to say immigrants are a good influence.

More than half the people in the United States — 52 percent — said immigrants are having a good influence in their newly adopted country, up 10 percentage points from May 2004. Among Britons surveyed, 43 percent viewed immigrants in a positive light — up 11 points from two years ago. Almost half of Spaniards had an upbeat view of the newcomers’ influence — up 9 points from 2004. The French, Germans and Italians also have grown more likely to view immigrants favorably.

In the European countries polled — Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain — the public is about evenly divided on the influence of immigrants on their country.

The increase in immigration has some people — like Briton Arthur Hooker — very nervous. The number of people applying for British citizenship surged by 64 percent in 2005 as immigrants rushed to beat deadlines before new restrictions went into effect.

“It’s a small country and bringing people into it is sinking us into the ocean if we’re not careful,” said Hooker, a 65-year-old book stall owner in central London.

The growing number of immigrants is a strain on countries that shows up in different ways.

  • In the United States, there’s a debate on how to secure the nation’s borders while determining what becomes of more than 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country.
  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has made improving integration of the nation’s roughly 7 million foreigners a top goal of her new government.
  • Spain faces an increasing tide of desperate migrants arriving in the Canary Islands nearly every day, gaunt and exhausted from days packed together at sea.

The arrival of thousands of newcomers is raising fears of crime.

Soaring unemployment, dissatisfaction
More than a third of Germans, Italians and Spaniards say they think immigrants are more likely to be involved in criminal activity than people born in their countries. A fourth in France and Britain feel that way.

“Often the immigrants come here and can’t find work, they are forced to become criminals,” said Leonardo Delogu, a doctor from Sardinia, who was visiting Rome.

For three weeks last November, youths from depressed suburbs of Paris — where youth unemployment soared to around 50 percent — burned thousands of cars and some public buildings in France’s worst public unrest in decades. Many of those who rioted were the French-born children of immigrants, who often have difficulty finding work, getting into good schools, even being able to get into nightclubs or renting apartments.

An overwhelming number of those polled in all eight countries said immigrants work as hard or harder than people born in those countries.

Many times, the immigrants take jobs that are less desired by the native-born population.

“Working hard is the only way they’re going to survive, isn’t it,” said Sunny Siddiq, a liquor store owner in London who moved to Britain from Pakistan nine years ago. “They don’t have luxuries in their home country, so when they come here, they only have one mission: to work hard and to support families back home.”