October 28, 2010

Illegal Immigration Backlash Worries, Divides Latinos

V. Politics, the Immigration Policy Debate and Civic Participation

Even though the national debate about immigration policy has been highly contentious for several years, Latinos do not rank it as one of the top issues they think about in the context of next week’s congressional elections. Nonetheless, a majority of Latinos say that in the past year they have discussed the immigration policy debate with family and friends, and one-in-seven say they have participated in a demonstration to support immigration rights. When it comes to the political parties, the Democrats’ agenda on immigration policy is seen as the best.

The Issue of Immigration

Just as in previous years (Lopez and Livingston, 2010), the issue of immigration does not rank as a top issue for Latinos. Rather it ranks fourth in a list of seven, behind education, jobs and health care. About a third (32%) of all Latinos say the issue of immigration is extremely important to them.9

The native born and the foreign born rank the issues of education, jobs and health care as their top three issues. However, the ranking of immigration is different for each group—it ranks sixth for the native born and fourth for the foreign born. Even so, just about equal shares of the native born and the foreign born say the issue of immigration is extremely important to them—31% and 32%, respectively. On the issues of education, jobs and health care, however, the native born are more likely than the foreign born to rate them as extremely important.

Even so, issue rankings differ among some groups of Latinos. Among the foreign born who are naturalized U.S. citizens, immigration ranks fourth, behind education, jobs and health care—a ranking similar to all Latinos. Among the foreign born who are legal residents, however, immigration ties education as a top issue, with 39% saying each issue is extremely important to them personally. Among Latino immigrants who are not legal residents and are not U.S. citizens, immigration ranks fourth, but just as many in this group identify immigration (27%), education (29%), jobs (29%) and health care (28%) as extremely important to them personally.

Are Immigrant Hispanics and Native-Born Hispanics Working Together?

Even though the native born and the foreign born share a similar ranking of issues, when asked if both groups are working together politically, Hispanics are divided. Some 45% say immigrant and native-born Hispanics are working together toward a common political goal, while 46% say they are not.

All groups of Latinos are similarly split. Among the native born, 43% say that immigrant and native-born Hispanics are working together, while nearly half (48%) say they are not. Among immigrant Latinos, nearly half (47%) say both groups are working together, while 44% say they are not.

Which Party Has the Better Agenda on Immigration

When it comes to which party’s agenda on immigration attracts greater confidence from Hispanics, half (51%) say they have more confidence in the Democratic Party’s agenda and 19% say the same of the Republican Party. About one-in-six (16%) say they have confidence in neither, and 12% say they don’t know.

Pluralities of all groups of Latinos say they have more confidence in the Democrats’ agenda on immigration than in the Republican’s agenda. However, among one group of foreign-born Latinos—those who are neither legal residents nor U.S. citizens—nearly as many say they don’t know (25%) or have confidence in neither (22%) agenda as say they have confidence in one of the parties’ agendas on immigration (40% identify the Democrats’ agenda and 13% say the Republicans’ agenda).

Civic Participation

More than six-in-ten (62%) Hispanics say they have discussed the immigration policy debate with family, friends or co-workers in the past year, while 37% say they have not. This level of discussion among Hispanics is similar for the native born (63%) and the foreign born (60%).

According to the survey, one-in-seven (15%) Hispanics say that in the past year they have participated in a protest or demonstration to support immigration rights. This is down from 24% who said the same in 2006 (Pew Hispanic Center and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, 2007), when there was a great deal of activity in Congress to try to adopt comprehensive immigration reform. Among Latinos, the foreign born who do not have citizenship are most likely to say they had participated in a protest or demonstration. Nearly one-in-four (24%) of immigrant Latinos who are not citizens and are not legal residents say they participated in a protest or demonstration in the past year. Among legal resident immigrants, one-in-five (20%) say the same.

Cite this publication: Mark Hugo Lopez, Rich Morin and Paul Taylor. “Illegal Immigration Backlash Worries, Divides Latinos.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (October 28, 2010) http://www.pewhispanic.org/2010/10/28/illegal-immigration-backlash-worries-divides-latinos/, accessed on July 23, 2014.

  1. Among Latino registered voters, immigration is also not a top issue, ranking fifth overall, behind education, jobs, health care and the federal budget deficit (Lopez, 2010).