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   from the issue of November 16, 2006

Survey tracks reservations about Latino immigration

A majority of rural Nebraskans think that undocumented workers who have been working and paying taxes for at least five years should be allowed to apply for American citizenship but don't think Latin American immigration has been good for rural Nebraska, according to the Nebraska Rural Poll. The poll also found that more than two-thirds don't believe important information should be communicated to Spanish-speaking arrivals in their native tongue.

UNL researchers say the 11th annual Rural Poll's findings seem to reflect rural Nebraskans' recognition that parts of the state are undergoing significant change from Latin Americans' immigration - and that rural Nebraskans are struggling with how to come to terms with that change. In its sampling of Latino residents, the poll also reflects that rural Latinos often voice divergent ideas about immigration policies and impacts.

"For many of our rural communities, the question is not will they change, but in what direction will they change," said UNL sociologist Miguel Carranza, part of the research team that created and analyzed the poll. "Most communities have not looked at the question of 'How can we view immigrants as an asset?'"

Rural Poll surveys were mailed in March to about 6,200 randomly selected households in Nebraska's 84 rural counties and to almost 700 randomly selected rural households with Latino surnames. Results are based on 2,482 responses as well as 126 respondents who identified themselves as Spanish, Hispanic or Latino.

Results are summarized in a report titled "Perceptions of Latin American Immigration Among Rural Nebraskans." Complete results are available online at

Although any survey has limitations due to the extent of the numbers of those who responded, a 22 percent response rate for Latino respondents compared to the 40 percent overall response rate "means we should be especially cautious about ascribing the views in the report to the Latino population as a whole," said Rebecca Vogt, long-time project manager of the Rural Poll.

Sixty-four percent of respondents said they're aware of recent Latin American immigrants living in their communities. Latinos' recent immigration patterns are reflected in regional differences: 73 percent of respondents in northeast and south central Nebraska, where meatpacking and other industries have drawn thousands of immigrants, said they're aware of recent Latin American immigrants living in their communities, compared to only 45 percent of those in north central Nebraska.

On many of the poll's questions, Latino respondents who have lived in rural Nebraska for more than five years have a different perspective than newer arrivals; their views tended to be closer to those of non-Latinos.

"I paid my dues and therefore I expect you to pay your dues" is how Cantrell characterized this viewpoint.

The UNL researchers said Nebraskans concerned about declining rural populations would be well served to actively integrate new arrivals into their communities.

"They can be a lifeblood source of economic energy and opportunity for communities," said Alan Tomkins, director of the University of Nebraska's Public Policy Center and part of the Rural Poll research team.

Carranza said he found the resistance to educating young undocumented immigrants especially difficult to square with rural Nebraskans' concerns about their communities' viability.

"Some people see that as unearned, undeserved .... I see that as a wise investment," Carranza said. "These are people we should want to nurture and become productive members of our respective communities."

Cantrell cautioned against seeing Latin American immigration as an exclusively rural issue. "The growth of the Latino population is very pocketed in a very small number of fairly sizable communities," he said. "Most of them end up in Omaha and Lincoln - just like most of us end up in Omaha and Lincoln - and for the same reason: That's where the jobs are."

The successful integration of Latino immigrants into Nebraska depends as much on how they settle into the urban neighborhoods of Omaha as how they settle into Dawson or Madison counties, he added.

Cantrell said researchers plan to encourage further discussion of these issues early next year with a forum at the university as part of the Public Policy Center's Thomas C. Sorensen Policy Seminar Series.

The Poll

The Rural Poll is the largest annual poll of rural Nebraskans' perceptions on quality of life and policy issues.

This is the fifth and final report from the 2006 rural poll. Complete results are available online at

The university's Center for Applied Rural Innovation conducts the poll in cooperation with the Rural Initiative and Public Policy Center with funding from the Partnership for Rural Nebraska and UNL Extension and the Agricultural Research Division in the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Different Viewpoints – a chart showing divergent ideas on immigration policies and impacts is available in pdf format here.



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