December 14, 2007

Odd Poll Numbers

I can’t help but be struck by a disparity in the numbers in this poll.

After a year of stepped-up enforcement against illegal immigration and polarized debate on the issue, about half of the Hispanics in the United States now fear that they or a relative or close friend could be deported, a report released Thursday by the Pew Hispanic Center found.

About two-thirds of Hispanics said their lives had been made more difficult by the political fight over immigration and the failure of Congress to address the situation of illegal immigrants, the Pew survey found. Roughly half the Hispanics in the poll said the heightened attention to immigration had had a directly negative impact on them, in some cases making it harder for them to find jobs or housing.

Some 41 percent of Hispanics said they or someone close to them had had a personal experience of discrimination in the past five years, an increase of 10 percent since 2002 of Hispanics’ reporting such experiences, the survey found.

Now I have a very sincere concern about these numbers. Take the first one. Roughly half of Hispanics “fear that they or a relative or close friend could be deported.” What does that number tell us? Well, the Hispanic population of this country is roughly 47 million people. Estimates of the illegal immigrant population range from 12-20 million (Pew skews those numbers lower). The latter are, of course, subject to deportation. And since that population is 25-40% of the total Hispanic population, I’m rather shocked that the percentage of those who “fear that they or a relative or close friend could be deported” isn’t significantly higher than 50%. Indeed, if the US government were really doing its job on border enforcement and immigration control the number ought to be closer to 75% when you throw in the “or a relative or close friend” aspect of the question. I suspect that is why the numbers saying that “their lives had been made more difficult” and “a direct negative impact on them” were as high as they were.

Let’s consider a different number – the 41% of Hispanics who said they or someone close to them had had a personal experience of discrimination.” I’m curious how that number really breaks down in terms of the nature of that “personal experience of discrimination.” To what degree are we talking about employment or housing discrimination, discrimination in public accommodations or some other form of illegal discrimination? To what degree are we talking about so-called “hate crimes”? And last, but not least, how much of that “discrimination” took the form of perceived social slights or failures in cross-cultural communication? For that matter, how much of the “discrimination” was the result of someone facing the consequences of being in this country illegally and either not being able to get a job, losing a job, or being deported because of immigration status? Again, the number raises more questions than it answers.

And I make that last point because of one final number reported upon here.

Despite their concerns about the current atmosphere, about 71 percent of Hispanics surveyed described the overall quality of their lives as good or excellent. More than three-quarters said they were confident that their children would grow up to have better-paying jobs than theirs.

Oh, really? For all the gripes and concerns, it sounds like Hispanics in this country still feel that life is pretty good here, and the future is pretty rosy. That certainly stands in sharp contrast to the horrendous picture painted by the first 17 paragraphs of this 19 paragraph article. Somehow, though, that is not particularly newsworthy, and got buried at the end of the story.

Oh, and since I took a look at the actual Pew Hispanic Center release on the poll, there is another detail that did not get reported at all.

In addition to this wide variance in views between Hispanics and non-Hispanics, the survey finds less pronounced--but still significant--gaps within the Hispanic community on a range of matters, from perceptions about discrimination to attitudes about illegal immigration to support for tougher enforcement measures. For example, on questions about enforcement policies, native-born Hispanics take positions that are closer to those of the rest of the U.S. population than do foreign-born Hispanics. Also, the native born are less likely than the foreign born to report a negative personal impact from the heightened attention to immigration issues.

Likewise, Hispanics who are not citizens feel much more vulnerable in the current environment than do Hispanics who are citizens. They are about twice as likely as Hispanic citizens to worry about deportation and to feel a specific negative personal impact from the heightened attention to illegal immigration. (Non-citizens account for 44% of the total adult Hispanic population. Of these non-citizen Latino adults, an estimated 55% are undocumented immigrants and the other 45% are legal aliens).

In other words, there is not a giant “Hispanic” monolith. Attitudes vary depending on place of birth, citizenship, immigration status and (one would presume) ancestry. And while there are commonalities, you discover that those with the biggest problems are, as one would guess, those who are in this country illegally, unable to speak the language. Imagine that!

Personally, I welcome any legal immigrant -- especially those who wish to come to this country and become a part of it. Such individuals our lives and our culture. But those who can't follow our laws are another matter -- and my concern for their sense of being picked upon is minimal.

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