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Immigration: Passionate Debate, Everyday Experiences

by Scott Bittle

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

The teeth of Arizona's new immigration law were blocked in court this week, but the debate is undoubtedly going to continue. Arizona is already appealing the decision, as other states considering similar laws watch how the case progresses.

Given the passions aroused in the Arizona debate – and the recurring fights about immigration over the last few years – it's fair to wonder about how this plays out in day-to-day interactions. Overall, immigrants themselves paint a picture of a country where they fit in well. In Public Agenda's survey of immigrants, A Place to Call Home, we found most immigrants said they felt comfortable in the United States pretty quickly.

More than three-quarters (77 percent) say that it takes fewer than five years to "feel comfortable here and part of the community," and nearly half (47 percent) said it took fewer than two. Seven in 10 say they'd do it all over again if they had the chance.

Such easy comfort with their adopted home comes despite some formidable obstacles. Just more than three quarters (76 percent) say that they came to the United States with "very little money," and only 20 percent say they had "a good amount of money to get started." Some 45 percent say that they came to this country not speaking any English at all, an increase of 10 points since 2002.

There are some indications, however, that when it comes to being "comfortable" in communities, other immigrants play a critical role. Compared to 2002, more immigrants say that they spend time with people from their birth country and have closer ties there. Half of the immigrants we surveyed (51 percent) say they spend "a lot" of time with people from their birth country, a jump of 14 points from 2002.

And when it comes to discrimination, most immigrants say it exists, but most also say they don't run into it personally. More than six in 10 immigrants say there's some discrimination against immigrants in the United States today, and one in five say there's “a great deal” of discrimination. But only 9 percent of immigrants say that they have personally experienced “a great deal” of discrimination, with another 16 percent reporting that they experienced "some." And while Mexican immigrants are more likely to say there's a great deal of discrimination against immigrants, they're no more likely to say they've experienced it personally.


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