Public Agenda
PUBLIC AGENDA PRESS RELEASE
Immigrants Dispel Negative Stereotypes

Have Strong Work Ethic, Anxious to Learn English, Embrace Freedom

DATE OF RELEASE: Tuesday, January 14th, 2003


New York, NY -- A survey released today by the nonpartisan, nonprofit Public Agenda helps to dispel common stereotypes about immigrants in the U.S. More than 1,000 foreign-born U.S. residents from more than 100 countries were surveyed. Very strong majorities express a commitment to work and disinterest in government assistance programs, as well as a surprisingly favorable view of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), although many voice frustration with its bureaucracy. The study, Now That Im Here: What Americas Immigrants Have to Say about Life in the U.S. Today, was funded by Carnegie Corporation of New York and explores the views of the nations immigrants, focusing especially on their attitudes about the United States and their experiences here in recent years.

There is a much sharper focus on immigration since September 11, and we believe that it is essential, as part of this debate, to hear from immigrants themselves and to do it in a reliable way, said Deborah Wadsworth, President of Public Agenda. There have been a lot of anecdotes and news reports, a lot of charges and counter-charges. To us, the real value of this study is to help put some of the anecdotal evidence into perspective.

Immigrants are central to the story of America and history tells us it is the vitality, resilience and determination of each immigrant group that has renewed the American dream and created a country of vibrant diversity, said Vartan Gregorian, president of Carnegie Corporation of New York. This survey underscores the power of this new immigrant generation to bring ingenuity and innovation to Americas cities, suburbs and rural communities. And because Public Agenda has succeeded in revealing the voices of these new immigrants, we believe this survey will inform policy makers, national leaders and community activists in a way that is powerful and unique.

Believe in Earning Their Way

Immigrants express strong sentiments about earning their own way and not relying on public assistance. In fact, a large majority (73 percent) say it's extremely important for immigrants to work and stay off welfare. Almost nine in ten (88 percent) immigrants say the U.S. is better than their own country when it comes to having more opportunity to earn a good living.

This study shows clearly that immigrants are committed to leading productive lives in the U.S. and making positive contributions to our society, says Geri Mannion, chair of the Strengthening U.S. Democracy Program, Carnegie Corporation of New York. Policymakers and U.S. citizens alike should in turn help create a welcoming environment where immigrants can succeed.

  • Eight in ten (81 percent) immigrants say, a person has to work very hard in this country to make it - nobody gives you anything for free.
  • Six in ten (62 percent) say, the U.S. needs new immigrants to do the jobs that people born in the U.S. cant or wont do.
  • Only 18% say they or any member of their family have ever received food stamps.

Give INS a B+

The study also finds that a majority of immigrants (57 percent) have a favorable rather than unfavorable (27 percent) view of the INS. Still, most express frustration with the bureaucratic process. More than half (54 percent) say, the process is too long and theres too much paperwork. Few (15 percent) point to disrespectful INS workers and even fewer (6 percent) point to unfair immigration laws.

  • Only 13 percent of immigrants say the U.S. is too closed to accepting new immigrants, a plurality (44 percent) says the U.S. strikes the right balance and 31 percent say it is too open.
  • Seventy-six percent of immigrants who've dealt with the INS in the last decade say its rules and regulations are basically fair.

Since September 11

Nearly three in four immigrants (74 percent) say the government has become stricter about enforcing immigration laws since September 11. Remarkably, only 9 percent say that after September 11 someone was offensive or rude to them because they were an immigrant. A Pakistani immigrant noted, I haven't faced anything negative directly, but I feel like I have to give an explanationWell, you know, Pakistan, we're not the ones who are doing it. We're the ones that are helping.

Also since September 11, immigrants say they have a very positive view of the police. Only 9 percent say the police or law enforcement officials have been watching them more closely or picking on them because theyre immigrants. And nearly nine in ten (87 percent) say that police in this country can be trusted to protect them and their families.

More generally, 61 percent believe there is at least some overall anti-immigrant discrimination in the U.S., with 18 percent saying theres a great deal of it. However, only 31 percent say theyve experienced some or a great deal of discrimination personally. Immigrants who are black (42 percent) or Hispanic (32 percent) are more likely to report facing discrimination than white immigrants (22 percent).

English Immersion

Immigrants believe that learning to speak English is key to leading a successful life in the U.S., and their views on bilingual education are almost exactly the same as Americans overall. Nearly nine in ten (87 percent) say it is extremely important for immigrants to be able to speak and understand English. And nearly two in three (65 percent) say the U.S. should expect all immigrants who dont speak English to learn it, versus 31 percent who say this should be left to each individual to decide. A majority of immigrants (52 percent) who spoke little or no English upon coming here say learning to speak the language was the biggest challenge they faced, ranking higher than finding work, or dealing with immigration paperwork or discrimination. As a Hispanic immigrant from Los Angeles said, Without English you cannot communicate, you cannot look for work, you cannot go and apply.

  • Eighty-five percent say its hard to get a good job or do well in this country without learning English.
  • By a 63 percent to 32 percent margin immigrants say all public school classes should be taught in English rather than having children of immigrants take some courses in their native language. These percentages virtually mirror the views of the general public.
  • Thirty-seven percent of immigrants say they already had a good command of English when they came to the U.S.

Strong Commitment to Making the U.S. Their Home

A resounding eight in ten immigrants (80 percent) say that they would still come to the U.S. if they were making the choice all over again. Just 2 percent say they are generally disappointed with life in America. When asked which best describes what becoming a citizen means to them, 34 percent say they look at it as a dream come true, but more than half (56 percent) see it as something necessary and practical. Only 8 percent regard citizenship as something not so important.

  • Eighty percent of immigrants say the U.S. is a unique country that stands for something special in the world, versus 16 percent who say its just another country that is no better or worse than any other.
  • Almost three-quarters (74 percent) say they plan to stay in the U.S.
  • Sixty-eight percent say the U.S. is better than their birth country (5 percent) when it comes to womens rights.
  • Fifty-nine percent phone family abroad regularly; 44 percent send money home at least once in a while.

A Closer Look at Mexican Immigrants

While the study offers insight into the perspectives of immigrants from many nations, due to the large number of Mexican immigrants - two-thirds of the U.S. Hispanic population is of Mexican origin - a more in-depth look at this group is included. Additionally, Mexican immigrants differ from other immigrants in that they are more likely to come to the U.S. at a younger age and without the ability to speak English. As a group, they have lower levels of education. These demographic differences likely explain why Mexican immigrant attitudes often diverge from those of other immigrants.

  • Mexican immigrants are more likely to say the U.S. is too closed - 22 percent vs. 11 percent of other immigrants, although 41 percent say the country strikes the right balance.
  • Mexican immigrants say they are drawn to the U.S. by the opportunity to work and make a living (48 percent compared to 34 percent of other immigrants) rather than personal or political freedoms.
  • Fifty-four percent of Mexican immigrants vs. 68 percent of other immigrants surveyed, say the U.S. should expect all immigrants who dont speak English to learn it.
  • Fifty-one percent of Mexican immigrants think all public school classes should be taught in English (rather than allowing some classes to be taught in a students native language). Among other immigrants, the majority is stronger (67 percent).
  • Mexican immigrants are more likely than other immigrants to say the U.S. is better than their country of birth when it comes to womens rights (85 percent vs. 63 percent). The same is true for having a legal system you can trust (81 percent vs. 63 percent) and having an honest government (75 percent vs. 58 percent).

Methodology

Now That Im Here, authored by Steve Farkas, Ann Duffett and Jean Johnson, is based on a national telephone survey of 1,002 foreign-born adults aged 18 or older who came to live in the U.S. when they were at least 5 years old. The survey was offered in English and Spanish. The margin of error is plus or minus three percentage points. The sample is drawn from two sources: 830 respondents were randomly selected from a targeted sample representing 81 percent of foreign-born households in the U.S.; 172 respondents were drawn from pre-screened samples from previously conducted Public Agenda surveys.

The survey was preceded by seven focus groups conducted in sites across the country, including New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Sioux Falls, SD, and Alexandria, VA. In addition, 13 in-depth interviews were conducted with immigration experts in academia, public policy, law and community outreach.

For a limited time, copies of Now That Im Here can be downloaded free of charge from www.publicagenda.org, where additional information about immigration can also be found. You can order a printed version for $10, plus $2 shipping and handling, by calling Public Agendas publications department at 212/686-6610.

About Carnegie Corporation of New York

Now That Im Here was made possible by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York. The Corporation was created by Andrew Carnegie in 1911 to promote the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding. As a grant making foundation, the Corporation seeks to carry out Carnegies vision of philanthropy, which he said should aim to do real and permanent good in the world. The Corporations capital fund, originally donated at a value of about $135 million, had a market value of $1.6 billion on September 30, 2002. It is expected that the Corporations grant making will total more than $80 million during fiscal year 2002-2003.

Public Agenda is a nonprofit organization dedicated to nonpartisan public policy research. Founded in 1975 by former U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and Daniel Yankelovich, the social scientist and author, Public Agenda is well respected for its influential public opinion surveys and balanced citizen education materials. Its mission is to inject the public's voice into crucial policy debates. Public Agenda seeks to inform leaders about the public's views and to engage citizens in discussing complex policy issues.


Now That I'm Here

What Americas Immigrants Have to Say about Life in the U.S. Today

Media Type: PDF

A survey of immigrants finds an overwhelming majority committed to working hard and staying off government assistance.

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