MIAMI (AP) — Hispanics are increasingly concerned about a backlash against them, even as they are split over the effects of illegal immigration on the country. Their anxiety comes as illegal immigration and border security are playing major roles in election campaigns nationwide.
More than 60 percent of Latinos say discrimination against Hispanics is a "major problem," up from 54 percent who said the same in 2007, according to a report to be released Thursday by the nonpartisan Pew Hispanic Center.
Three years ago, Hispanics were most likely to cite language skills as the biggest reason for discrimination. Now, more than a third believe immigration is the biggest factor.
That said, the number of Latinos who reported they, their family or close friends have experienced discrimination remained unchanged from last year and actually dropped from 2007.
Hispanics make up about 15 percent of the U.S. population and also comprise the vast majority of the country's roughly 11 million illegal immigrants.
The rise in concern comes as candidates, particularly Republicans, are increasingly featuring illegal immigration in their campaigns. U.S. Senate hopeful Republican Sharon Angle in Nevada has released ads linking her opponent Democratic Sen. Harry Reed to illegal immigrants with video of what appear to be scary-looking Latino gang members.
Mark Lopez, associated director of the Pew Hispanic Center and the report's co-author, believes the rising concern comes in part from media reports about what could happen in the future.
"There's been a lot of discussion in the media about the potential impacts of different policies that have been proposed, such as Arizona's law and how that might affect immigrants — and how it affects Latinos," he said. "But we've noticed no change and, frankly, Arizona's law has not been implemented."
Earlier this year a judge blocked some of the most controversial parts of the state's new law including a requirement that officers automatically investigate the immigration status of individuals they stop and automatically detain those stopped for a minor crime who immediately can't prove they are in the country legally.
Lopez also noted that while the number of deportations has jumped in the last two years, the majority of those now being deported are convicted criminals, many of whom may already be in law enforcement custody.
Despite their fears, Hispanics are hardly unified as to their views on illegal immigration itself: roughly equal parts believe it has had a positive influence, no effect or a negative influence on the U.S.
But on the larger issue of what to do about illegal immigrants already in the country, the vast majority support a path to citizenship if the individuals pass background checks, pay a fine and have a job. And they believe the children of these immigrants who are born in the U.S. should retain their U.S. citizenship.
The survey of 1,375 Latino adults was conducted in Spanish and English via cellular and landline phones between Aug. 17 and Sept. 19. The margin of error for the poll was 3.3 percentage points.
(This version CORRECTS Replaces last graf to correct 'percent' to 'percentage points.')
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