Friday, July 28, 2006

Immigrants - Record - AP-Ipsos Poll shows softening of stance on immigrants

Published in the Bergen Record, Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Polls show softening of stance on immigrants

Wednesday, June 7, 2006


Americans are becoming more accepting of immigrants, a new poll shows, even as congressional debates over border control and rallies both against and in support of undocumented immigrants suggest a nation bitterly uneasy over its foreign-born residents.

Polls conducted by The Associated Press-Ipsos found that slightly more than half of Americans consider immigrants an asset. That is a change from just two years ago, when a number of people indicated ambivalence over whether immigrants are a good influence on society.

In New Jersey, the conclusions of the poll rang familiar with residents of diverse backgrounds.

"Where I live, in Teaneck, we all live together," said Margaret White, chairwoman of the Anti-Racism Committee of the Unitarian Society of Ridgewood. "We ask, 'How's your kid doing?' not 'Where's your green card?' "

White recalled the cheer that filled a concert she recently attended that offered songs reflecting different ethnic cultures.

"There were Puerto Rican songs, Irish songs, Japanese songs," White said. "People in the audience had tears in their eyes when they heard songs from their country."

More than half the people in the United States -- 52 percent -- said immigrants are having a good influence in their newly adopted country, up 10 percentage points from May 2004.

The separate polls were conducted of about 1,000 adults in each of eight countries. They were conducted between May 1 and 22 and have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points. The eight countries were the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Canada and Australia.

Many of those polled in all eight countries said immigrants work as hard or harder than people born in those countries. In most of the countries, people who made higher incomes and had more education were more likely to say immigrants are a good influence.

"The population of immigrants is increasing dramatically," said Fred Bemak, a George Mason University professor who studies the impact of immigration. "When it's the person next door, it changes the tone."

Albert Chin, a Paramus resident, said he feels welcome in the suburbs of North Jersey.

"People are more intelligent now," said Chin, who was born in New York and is of Chinese descent. "In my younger days, people were ignorant. Now, people are more sophisticated, they are more aware of news about other countries, they are exposed to a lot more in general. People know there is no turning back, that we have to live together."

Others agreed that people are probably coming to terms with the reality of a changing society. In New Jersey, immigrants have a presence in nearly every municipality now. In some areas, immigrants and their children account for more than half the population.

Cross-cultural relationships -- at work, in neighborhoods, in schools -- increasingly are part of everyday life. Studying a foreign-language is now a required part of elementary school education in New Jersey. And lessons about other cultures and immigrant contributions throughout U.S. history are part of the curriculum in New Jersey schools.

"The poll confirms that most people understand that immigrants now, as they have throughout history, push forward the economy through their labor and other contributions," said Guillo Beytagh-Maldonado, a Latino community activist from New Brunswick and moderator of the online mailing list server "The poll also confirms that most people understand that immigrants do not displace workers in the job market. Immigrants create at least as many jobs as they occupy."

Though the results painted a sunny picture of the public's views of immigrants, the fact remains, some residents pointed out, that immigration still is a source of contention. In fact, even U.S.-born children of immigrants report that they've experienced discrimination because of the way they look.

"Recently, in fact, some teenagers were walking towards me on the same block, and they wouldn't move so I had to move," Chin said. "They gave me derogatory looks and made derogatory remarks about me."

Chin declined to elaborate on the remark, adding only that it was discriminatory and "mumbled."

"They probably took a look at me and thought I didn't know what they were saying," said Chin, who is on the board of the Chinese Community Center of New Jersey. "I was born in this country, on the Lower East Side, and I'm as American -- perhaps even more American -- than those teenagers. But they seemed to assume I was from another country, and I didn't understand English. I asked them why they didn't move, and they just looked at me and quickly shut up."

Some activists say that the increasingly heated national debate about how to handle illegal immigration is eclipsing the positive attitudes of most people toward legal immigration.

"It's been easy for the acceptance of immigrants to get lost, and escape notice, when the spotlight has been on protests and showdowns over illegal immigration," said Gustavo Ramirez, executive director of the Passaic-based Immigration and American Citizenship Organization, or IACO.

"The rancorous back-and-forth over whether to legalize illegal immigrants and to what extent to crack down on them, is bringing out the xenophobic, ultra-conservative, ultra-right-wing groups that speak harshly of immigrants. But they don't reflect the views of most Americans, certainly not their views toward immigration in general."

White said such hostility is "not necessarily anti-immigrant, it comes from our country's legacy of racism."

"We don't say we have to keep out Canadians, even though that's where people with terrorist ties are being found," she said. "We're not building a wall along the U.S.-Canada border."

Among Britons surveyed, 43 percent viewed immigrants in a positive light -- up 11 points from two years ago. Almost half of Spaniards had an upbeat view of the newcomers' influence -- up nine points from 2004. The French, Germans and Italians also have grown more likely to view immigrants favorably.

This article contains material from The Associated Press. E-mail:

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Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.