National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America


Pew Hispanic Center Poll on Latinos and Immigration

August 17, 2005

Washington, DC – The Pew Hispanic Center ( released a poll yesterday on U.S. Latinos’ attitudes toward immigration, as well as a poll from Mexico on attitudes toward migration to the U.S.  For reasons that may have more to do with the report’s rollout than its results, much of the press coverage emphasizes the finding that many Mexicans in Mexico would like to migrate to the United States, that a majority of native-born Latinos support citizenship restrictions for driver’s licenses while a majority of Latino immigrants oppose such restrictions, and that most Latinos are not in favor of increased immigration levels.  The following is a statement from Frank Sharry, Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum, a Washington-based pro-immigrant advocacy organization.

The Pew Hispanic Center poll confirms that Latinos overall, and Latino immigrants especially, view immigration as an important issue, are far more likely to hold pro-immigrant views and support generous immigration levels than the general public, and strongly favor immigration reform that includes a path to permanent residence for the undocumented already here, while being far more skeptical of a “work and return” guestworker proposal.  We couldn’t agree more.

Here are some of the findings from the actual report that did not seem to break through:

  • 80% of Latino immigrants and 75% of native-born Latinos say that immigration is an extremely important or very important issue (in polls of the general public in which respondents rate the importance of ten issues, immigration usually comes in last)

  • 89% of Latino immigrants and 65% of the native-born say immigrants strengthen our country rather than being a burden (a recent Pew survey that found 45% of the general public agrees)

  • 76% of Latino immigrants and 55% of the native-born say undocumented immigrants help the economy by providing low cost labor rather than hurt the economy by driving wages down

  • 76% of Latino immigrants and 72% of native-born say that legal immigration levels should be increased or stay the same (a recent poll sponsored by the National Immigration Forum and American Immigration Lawyers Association found that 48% of the general public supports increased or current levels of immigration)

  • 88% of Latino immigrants and 78% of the native-born favor giving undocumented immigrants a chance to remain here permanently with legal status and to eventually become U.S. citizens

  • 55% of Latino immigrants and 59% of the native-born favor a temporary worker program that would require the workers to eventually return to their home countries

What is the political importance of these findings, especially the strongly positive views held by Latino immigrants? 

In order to boost their share of the Latino vote, President Bush and the Republican National Committee have targeted Latino immigrants more than Latino natives.  A recent John Fund column in The Wall Street Journal summarized the findings of highly regarded Democratic pollster Sergio Bendixen: in 2004 John Kerry won 65% of the native-born Latino vote, about the same rate as Bill Clinton’s 64% in 1996; but support for Mr. Kerry among Latino immigrants dropped from Mr. Clinton's 82% to only 52%.
This means that President Bush increased his overall share of the Latino vote from 35% to 40% in 2004 almost entirely by picking up significant support among Latino immigrants.  It underscores how Latino immigrants have become a key battleground demographic in the struggle for political supremacy between the two major parties. 

In this light, the fact that President Bush made his January 2004 immigration reform speech makes political sense.  At the time, anti-immigration forces and numerous pundits argued that Bush had made a huge political blunder by coming out for reform on an issue that divides Republicans, and in an election year no less.  The critics predicted that some of the President’s base would stay home on Election Day.  In retrospect, the base turned out for Bush and so did almost half of the growing number of Latino immigrant voters.  Meanwhile, legend has it that Democratic advisors to John Kerry told him to pull advertising directed at Latino voters because their polls showed Kerry winning the Latino vote by a big margin.  Some have suggested that the campaign’s polling over-sampled native-born Latino voters and missed the dramatic Bush surge among Spanish-dominant immigrants.

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