November 17, 2007
The immigration "threat"

The attitudes about immigration found by the 2007 Houston Area Survey are not as bad as the Chron headline make it sound. It's a fairly mixed bag and there certainly are some disheartening things, but it's not all negative.

"Anglos who live in predominantly Anglo areas are less likely to interact and meet minorities," said Stephen Klineberg, the Rice University sociology professor who has directed the annual survey for 26 years. "And they have more reservations about ethnic diversity."

For the first time, Klineberg expanded his survey to Galveston, Fort Bend and Montgomery counties. Only the responses of white residents were used in questions about immigrants, Klineberg said, because the non-Anglo percentages in the four counties varied widely.

The survey found 57 percent of Montgomery County respondents and 59 percent in mainland Galveston County believe the immigrant influx "mostly threatens American culture."

In addition, 73 percent of whites in mainland Galveston and Montgomery County favor fines and criminal charges against employers who hire illegal immigrants.

A similar vein runs through the other counties: In Harris, 69 percent of whites support punishing employers. In Fort Bend and Montgomery counties, 72 percent say they want the government to hit illegal-immigrant-heavy companies with fines and charges.


Lisa Graybill, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Texas chapter, says the conservative rhetoric is nothing new. It has held a grip on places such as Farmers Branch, a community north of Dallas that adopted a law banning apartment owners from renting to illegal immigrants. The ACLU is suing to overturn the ban.

"The moving out of Latino immigrants into the suburbs is creating a backlash," Graybill said. "We do have to acknowledge that there are problems -- complicated problems -- surrounding immigration, but these type of answers are not good policy for anybody."

Statistics show that indeed there has been a Latino explosion in the suburbs. In Montgomery County, the Hispanic population grew to 66,000 in 2006 from 37,000 in 2000, according to Census Bureau data.

It's been my opinion for awhile that what's driving a lot of the anti-immigrant sentiment is economic anxiety. Wages are stagnant, blue-collar jobs are going away, the housing bubble has burst - it's all there. Add in the neverending war in Iraq, and there's a lot for people to feel anxious about. Deal with the underlying causes of that anxiety - I'm thinking January of 2009 will be a good time to start - and I think the immigration "issue" largely goes away.

The survey, however, does show whites are open to a path of legalization. More than 62 percent of the Anglos in Galveston, Harris and Fort Bend counties agreed that illegal immigrants should be granted citizenship if they speak English and have no criminal records. In Montgomery County, however, only 48 percent of the whites were for that idea. And more than 58 percent of whites in Galveston, Fort Bend and Harris counties said ethnic diversity is a "good thing," the survey shows.

"The experience of living in a more diverse community may increase one's feelings of comfort with the diversity," Klineberg said. "It's surprising how big the difference is."

Not to me, it's not. Burka, who was in town for the presentation of the 2007 Survey, has a lot more.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on November 17, 2007 to Elsewhere in Houston