- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 25, 2015

More than a third of Hispanics in the U.S. say they personally know someone who’s been put through deportation proceedings here, underscoring the personal nature of the immigration debate for one of the fastest-growing voter demographics.

Most Latinos know someone who is in the country illegally, and 36 percent of Latinos say they know of someone who has faced deportation, according to a new survey of more than 1,000 Hispanics taken this year and designed to suss out their attitudes on health care, immigration and discrimination.

Nearly half of respondents said they worry about a friend or family member being deported, and President Obama’s recent immigration actions have done little to quell the fear. Just 2 percent say they don’t worry about being detained or deported anymore — and another 2 percent said they worry even more now, after Mr. Obama’s Nov. 20 announcement designed to rejigger deportation priorities and carve most illegal immigrants out of danger of being kicked out of the U.S.

The vast majority also said they believe the U.S. in general harbors anti-immigrant and anti-Hispanic attitudes, which organizers of the survey said suggests the barricade mentality many Latinos have developed as the immigration debate is increasingly linked to the Hispanic community.

“One of the most concerning narratives about the state of life in Latino America is the extent to which some are ‘living in the shadows,’” said Francisco Pedraza, assistant professor of political science at Texas A&M University, who said the survey suggested one in three Hispanics avoids some aspects of public life for fear of being questioned about his or her citizenship status.

That included 13 percent who said they avoid talking to the police because they don’t want to be hassled over their status, and 10 percent each who said they are reluctant to get a driver’s license or go to an airport. Another 9 percent said they avoid doctor’s visits, and 7 percent said they avoid meeting with school officials.

The survey of 1,005 Hispanic adults, conducted by polling firm Latino Decisions in English or Spanish depending on the preference of the respondent, was taken between Jan. 29 and March 12, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

Hispanics are more likely to have insurance now, the survey said, with just 17 percent saying they lack coverage now. Two years ago, a similar poll by Latino Decisions found 28 percent were without insurance.

Among U.S.-born Hispanics, the coverage rate was 87 percent, while only 78 percent of foreign-born Hispanics said they were covered. That could be due to the terms of Obamacare, since some of the foreign-born are likely to be illegal immigrants, who are prohibited from taking advantage of much of the Affordable Care Act.

The survey found Hispanics fairly disengaged with the political process, with just 27 percent saying they are following what’s going on “most of the time,” and another 30 percent saying they pay attention “some of the time.” The rest said they pay attention now and then or hardly at all.

The illegal immigration and deportation numbers suggest one reason why immigration may cut through Hispanics’ general disengagement. With a majority saying they know illegal immigrants, and more than a third reporting someone they know has been put through deportation, the politics of immigration are personal to many.

In half of the cases, the respondents said the immigrant who was deported had been the chief breadwinner in his or her family.

Mr. Obama last year took steps he said would prevent most families from being separated by deportation.

One part of his plan included a proactive amnesty, known as “deferred action,” which granted tentative legal status and work permits to as many as 4 million illegal immigrants. Another part of his plan ordered immigration agents to focus on serious criminals and repeat immigration law violators, leaving most rank-and-file illegal immigrants with little fear of being kicked out.

While hotly debated in Washington political circles, the policies haven’t made much of an impression on Hispanic voters, according to the poll. Just 4 percent said Mr. Obama’s policy changed how they feel about their legal status — and half of those even said they are now more worried about being deported than before.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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