The survey found 63 percent agreed that new immigration should be limited, up from 48 percent in 2004. Meanwhile, 61 percent of those polled said illegal immigrants are a ”very serious” problem, up from 43 percent in 2006.
This year, 56 percent favored granting citizenship to illegal immigrants who have learned English and didn’t have a criminal record, down from 68 percent in 2007. And today, 43 percent believe immigrants contribute more than they take, down from 52 percent in 2002.
The pessimistic attitudes toward immigrants are striking in an area as diverse as Houston. Nearly 25 percent of Harris County’s population of 3.8 million is foreign-born, according to 2006 Census Bureau data.
The local attitudes reflect a nationwide fear of a rapidly growing population of immigrants who don’t embrace American culture, reduce the prominence of English and increase poverty that will strap taxpayers, the survey noted.
The backlash against the mostly Latino immigrants is comparable to past resentment over large-scale immigration from Europe, Klineberg said, adding the bias is stoked by conservative media outlets who only focus on the negative aspects of the influx.
”Whenever there have been large waves of immigrants arriving in the country — the Irish in 1840s and 1850s or the Greeks, Italians and Poles at the turn of the century — Americans have always responded with antagonism and fear,” he said.
This increasingly negative feeling about immigrants, both legal and illegal, first surfaced in the Houston Area Survey in 2005, he said.
”Each year there has been deepening anti-immigration attitudes, and this is happening despite the evidence of successful assimilation and upward mobility” of new arrivals, said Klineberg. ”All the evidence suggests Latino immigrants moving up and out of poverty, learning English and becoming Americans at least as rapidly, if not more rapidly, than Greeks and Italians did 100 years ago.”
I said it last time, and I’ll say it again this time: I believe economic anxiety,which is now being amped up by the housing crisis, coupled with a more generalized anxiety over things like the war in Iraq, is the driving force behind this. Indeed, there’s a note on the sidebar that says:
Positive assessment of the local economy dropped to 57 percent from 60 percent in 2007, even though the official local unemployment rate has fallen.
I believe that when the economy starts to improve, a lot of this negativity will abate. It won’t be cured, of course – we’ll see this all over again the next time the economy goes into a prolonged tank – but people will focus on it less, and it will diminish as a political issue. We saw the same thing in the early 90s during and shortly after the Bush 41 recession – remember Prop 187? It’s just more of the same, though perhaps a bit nastier and more prevalent thanks to the existence of a greater number of communication channels.
That’s basically the tack I’m going to take on Houston Have Your Say tonight at 7 PM on KUHT channel 8. Should be interesting.