In Midst of Divisive Immigration Debate, Latinos Feel the Pinch, New Report Finds

Increased public attention on illegal immigration and ramped up enforcement measures are taking a toll on Latinos in the U.S. A new report from the Pew Hispanic Center finds nearly two-thirds of native- and foreign-born Latino adults say the failure of Congress to reform immigration laws has made life harder for Latinos living in the U.S. The report also finds a wide opinion gap between Latinos and non-Latinos regarding illegal immigrants and immigration enforcement. In this political and social climate of anti-immigration hysteria, Latinos in the United States are feeling increasingly vulnerable and discriminated against – negative effects outlined in a new study by the Pew Hispanic Center.

The lack of federal immigration reform, compounded by a dramatic increase in the number of deportations, workplace raids, and restrictive new state and local immigration laws take the hardest toll on foreign-born Latinos, the report finds.

Two-thirds of foreign-born Hispanic adults worry they, a family member or a close friend could be deported, and nearly three-in-four say that due to Congress’ failure to pass immigration reform, life is harder for all Latinos. More than half of native-born Latinos say life is more difficult now, and nearly a third worry someone they love could be deported.

The fear of deportation is very real for Willy Garcia, an undocumented immigrant from Puebla, Mexico. In May, three ICE agents appeared at the Aurora event planning office where Garcia works as an organizer of Spanish-language concerts and events. They were responding to a call from Garcia’s former coworker, who Garcia says reported to ICE the names of illegal immigrants employed by the company in order to spite the owner who had recently laid him off.

“The worst part about it is that I was reported by a fellow Latino,” Garcia, 36, said of the Honduran coworker who he says reported him to ICE. “He was blessed to get papers. He wasn’t born here; he started exactly like I did. I always knew I would have to leave this country someday, but I don’t want it to happen like this.”

The number of deportations carried out by U.S. immigration authorities has jumped 84 percent since 2002, and the number of arrests made during workplace enforcement activities in 2007 has increased ten-fold, according to government data. As of October, more than 300,000 people had been deported and more than 5,000 undocumented immigrants arrested during workplace raids. 

State and local legislators have also stepped up efforts to combat illegal immigration. As of mid-November, over 1,500 proposals related to immigration had been introduced in the 50 state legislatures, according to the bipartisan National Conference on State Legislatures. Nearly 250 immigration-related laws have been enacted so far in 2007, and laws that restrict the rights or benefits of illegal immigrants outnumber the laws that protect them, like anti-trafficking laws, two-to-one.

It has been months since Garcia or his employer have heard anything further from ICE, but he knows every day in this country could be his last. The experience has forced Garcia to think seriously about his alternatives and has infused him and his two teenage children with an ever-present sense of dread.

“Every night when we get home we thank God that we are together again,” Garcia said. “Because today you exist in this country and tomorrow you don’t.”

The study also found that nearly 80 percent of all Latinos feel discrimination is either a major or minor problem that prevents all Latinos from succeeding in the United States. Among the causes of discrimination, nearly half of respondents cited language, nearly a quarter cited immigration status and 11 percent said skin color.

Fernando Cisneros, an architect in his native Mexico City, an undocumented furniture assembler in Denver, says he feels the discrimination sometimes, but he understands the American people’s frustration over immigration.

“I sometimes think people are justified in their discrimination of immigrants. So many of us come and some break the laws and make us all look bad. If I were in my country and there were a similar situation, I think I’d feel the same way,” said Cisneros, 39. “But I wonder what (Americans) would do if the minimum wage in Canada was $30 an hour?”

The latest Pew report was compiled using survey data collected in October and November of 2007 from a sample of 2,003 Hispanic adults. The margin of error is 2.7 percentage points

More findings from the latest Pew Hispanic Center report:

  • There are wide gaps in the opinions of Hispanics and non-Hispanics with regard to immigration enforcement and the contributions of illegal immigrants. Fewer than one-in-five Latinos says illegal immigrants have a negative impact on the U.S. economy, but that opinion is shared by nearly half of non-Latinos. Over half of non-Latinos approve of workplace raids to crackdown on illegal immigrants and their employers, but only 20 percent of Hispanics agree.
  • The report found varying assessments among Latinos regarding the amount of attention local officials and politicians pay to illegal immigration, which researchers say reflects the fact that immigration is a heated issue in parts of the nation, but not everywhere.
  • Just 40 percent of Latinos approve of immigration status checks before a person can be issued a state driver’s license, while 85 percent of non-Latinos support the practice.
  • There was no consensus on whether the situation of Hispanics in the U.S. had improved, deteriorated or stagnated in the past year, but the report shows most Latinos (78 percent) are still generally optimistic that their children will have more opportunities than they did.
  • The nation’s largest and fastest growing community of color, Hispanics number 47 million, over 15 percent of the total population. In Colorado, Latinos are 19 percent of the population.