Race in America: Three of four Mexican immigrants report some discrimination

NEW YORK, NY – Mexican immigrants see more discrimination against immigrants in America than do other foreign born adults, even though they’re no more likely to say they encounter it personally, according to a new survey by Public Agenda, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research organization.

The report released follows up on a groundbreaking 2002 survey and tracks immigrants’ shifting attitudes during a tumultuous period. Conducted in May 2009 and funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, ‘A Place to Call Home: What Immigrants Say Now About Their Life in America’ is based on a survey that utilized landline and cellular telephones along with oversamples to provide the widest perspective possible from more than 1,100 foreign-born adults overall. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish with 140 Mexicans — 38 of whom are undocumented.

Three-quarters of Mexican immigrants say there’s at least “some” discrimination against immigrants in the United States, compared with 57 percent of other immigrants. The gap widens when the question focuses on discrimination against people from the country where they were born (73 percent of Mexicans say there is at least some, compared with only 31 percent of other immigrants).

However, Mexican immigrants are no more likely to report encountering “some” or “a great deal” of discrimination personally than any other group; 24 percent of Mexicans say this, compared with 27 percent of other immigrants.

“Mexican immigrants express the same values, the same desire for a better life as other immigrants,” said Scott Bittle, Public Agenda executive vice president. “But the financial and language barriers they face are higher, and, clearly, reports of discrimination resonate with them, even if they don’t experience it themselves.”
Part of the reason for this perception may be that Mexican immigrants are more likely to be undocumented (33 percent, compared with 7 percent of other immigrants) and less likely to be citizens (27 percent, compared with 54 percent). Roughly half of Mexican immigrants (52 percent) say that most of the immigrants they know are here illegally, compared with only 16 percent of immigrants from other countries.

This association may help explain why Mexican immigrants are more likely than other immigrant groups to support a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants (84 percent, compared with 67 percent of other immigrants), a “guest worker” program (73 percent, versus 56 percent of other immigrants agree “strongly” with the proposal) and to believe that illegal immigrants become productive citizens in the long run (72 percent, compared with 50 percent of other immigrants).

It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that Mexicans are more likely than other immigrants to cite practical reasons for pursuing U.S. citizenship.
— 92 percent of Mexicans cite having better legal rights as a major reason to become a citizen, compared with 72 percent of other immigrants.
— 87 percent cite not having to worry about immigration status as a major reason, compared with 62 percent of other immigrants.
— 86 percent say making it easier to get certain jobs is a major reason, compared with 62 percent of other immigrants.
— 78 percent cite easier travel in and out of the United States, compared with 59 percent of other immigrants.
— And 69 percent say bringing other family members to the United States is a major reason, compared with 41 percent of other immigrants.

Mexican immigrants are different in other ways that point out the particular challenges they face. A staggering 9 in 10 say they came to the United States with “very little money.” Fully 75 percent of Mexican immigrants said they couldn’t speak English at all upon arrival, compared with 33 percent of other immigrants.

Public Agenda, http://www.publicagenda.org, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to nonpartisan public policy research. Founded in 1975 by former U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and Daniel Yankelovich, the social scientist and author, Public Agenda is well respected for its influential public opinion surveys and balanced citizen education materials. Its mission is to inject the public’s voice into crucial policy debates.