Most Hispanics say the immigration debate and Congress' failure to overhaul immigration laws has hurt them, and many fear deportation for themselves, a relative or close friend, a poll showed Thursday.
The survey, conducted by the nonpartisan Pew Hispanic Center, found that Hispanics in the United States are generally satisfied with their own lives and optimistic about the future. Yet many are wary of negative reactions prompted by heightened attention to illegal immigration in Congress and the presidential campaign trail, and they increasingly cite discrimination as a problem.
Sixty-four percent said the immigration debate and Congress' failure to enact bills revamping immigration laws has made life harder for Hispanics. Just more than half said the increased attention to immigration has hurt them personally, ranging from 12 percent who said they are having more trouble keeping a job to 24 percent who said they are less likely to travel outside the U.S.
A minority — 41 percent — said they or someone close has experienced discrimination in the past five years. That proportion has grown since 31 percent said so in a 2002 poll by Pew and the Kaiser Family Foundation. Roughly eight in 10 say they think discrimination against Hispanics is a problem in schools, the workplace and when it comes to success in the United States, with an increase in those citing school discrimination since 2002 and the other numbers changing little.
"Hispanics in this country are feeling vulnerable in the current political and policy environment," said Paul Taylor, acting director of the center.
Pressures on community
There are about 47 million Hispanics in the U.S., about 16 percent of the country's population. President George W. Bush and Congress have flopped in their efforts to enact legislation dealing with the country's 12 million illegal immigrants — which include many Hispanics — but increased deportations and tighter limits on government benefits have put pressure on the Hispanic community.
The issue has also become a major one in the 2008 presidential campaign, particularly with Republican candidates who have stressed how they would crack down on a problem widely cited by Republican voters as a top concern.
The poll found 53 percent of Hispanics said they worry about deportation for themselves, a relative or close friend, including 33 percent who said they worry about it a lot. While foreign-born Hispanics were most anxious, even one in three native-born Hispanics — who are all U.S. citizens — expressed worry.
Seven in 10 Hispanics say their own quality of life is either good or excellent, yet they are widely divided over the status of the nation's Hispanics overall. One in three say that nationally, the situation for Hispanics has worsened over the past year, a quarter say it has improved and nearly four in 10 say it has stayed the same.
Still confident about prospects
Even so, the survey found, more than three-fourths are confident that Hispanic children will do better economically than Hispanics are doing today.
The study also found that 75 percent of Hispanics said illegal immigrants help the economy by providing low-cost workers, while 17 percent said it hurts by driving down wages. By 48 percent to 40 percent, more non-Hispanics said it has hurt the economy.
Large numbers of Hispanics opposed steps taken to crack down on illegal immigration, including 75 percent who oppose workplace raids and 55 percent who object to states checking immigration status before providing driver's licenses.
The poll was conducted from Oct. 3 through Nov. 9 and involved telephone interviews with 2,003 Hispanics adults. It had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.7 percentage points.