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In wake of controversial Arizona law, Latinos now view immigration as top concern along with economy, new poll shows

July 14, 2010 | 11:59 am

Latinos now view immigration as their leading concern along with the economy in what activists say is a major shift most likely driven by controversy over Arizona's tough law against illegal immigrants.

Nearly one-third of Latinos also say that racism and prejudice are the central issues in the immigration reform debate, over national security, job competition and costs of public services for illegal immigrants, according to a national survey released Wednesday.

The national poll of 504 Latinos, stratified for region, gender, age, foreign-born status and other factors, was conducted by LatinoMetrics from May 26 to June 8 for the Hispanic Federation and League of United Latin American Citizens.

The poll found that the vast majority of those surveyed showed strong opposition to the Arizona law and strong support for immigration reform that includes both a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants and deportation of felons. Republican Latinos shared similar views on these issues with Democrats and independents.

The Arizona law, which is scheduled to take effect July 29, requires police to determine the status of people they lawfully stop whom they suspect are in the country illegally, and it makes it a misdemeanor to lack proper immigration documents. The Department of Justice recently joined several other organizations in filing suit against the state to block enforcement of the law.
"This new poll demonstrates a tremendous shift in the importance that immigration has become for a wide cross-section of the Latino population of the United States," Brent Wilkes, LULAC's executive director, said in a statement. "The fact that immigration reform is now a higher priority for Latinos than the economy and education demonstrates that Latinos have taken offense to the way immigrants have been demonized by politicians and political interest groups and are prepared to vote accordingly."

Activists say frustration over the immigration issue will unify and galvanize Latinos of all political stripes into voting in November. The poll showed that 80% of those surveyed said they planned to vote in the mid-term elections and that two-thirds would back candidates who support immigration reform.

Another new poll of 1,600 Latinos in four states conducted for the National Assn. of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund also shows immigration topping the list of Latino concerns. Arturo Vargas, the group's executive director, said immigration has always ranked below education and the economy as the community's most pressing concern.

"We've never seen this before," Vargas said in a teleconference Wednesday. "Latinos are feeling less optimistic and more under siege."

 -- Teresa Watanabe