Survey: Rift over immigration widens
Sociologist says recent protests could ‘increase the anxieties’ in the Houston area
— reported by the Houston Chronicle
High school students who took to the streets of Houston last week in an unprecedented protest against efforts to clamp down on illegal immigration may have scored a victory of sorts in giving voice to a community that until now has been largely silent.
But in the process, they also may have accelerated the growing unease felt by the American public at the presence of as many as 12 million immigrants in the country illegally, said Rice University sociologist Stephen Klineberg.
Klineberg’s annual Houston Area Survey, conducted a month ago, before the protests, found that local residents viewed immigrants in general less favorably than they had in past years. Likewise, more than 40 percent said illegal immigration is a serious problem and nearly a third called it a somewhat serious problem.
The sight of students waving the Mexican flag instead of the American banner will possibly harden that attitude and “increase the anxieties” of the community, Klineberg said.
The survey, a record of local attitudes over the past quarter-century, had for several years charted increasingly positive feelings toward immigrants.
When asked, “Do you think the increasing ethnic diversity in Houston will eventually become a source of great strength for the city or a growing problem?” the percentage of those who said immigrants were a source of strength increased gradually from 57 percent in 1996 to 69 percent in 2004.
This year, the percent of positive responses dropped to 60 percent â€” though only 26 percent called it a growing problem, Klineberg said.
“So it’s not that anti-immigrant now or anti-diversity,” he said. Rather, he added, “the improving relations have stopped.”