For all the sound and fury over illegal immigration, it's not a top concern for most Latinos, survey finds

Debbie Briano sat down in her restaurant, El Rancho Grande, on Olvera Street in downtown Los Angeles.

Despite it’s grandiose name and touristy location, most of the seats were empty on this weekday afternoon and the business’ future seemed hazy. Briano is worried about competition from online delivery services, rent hikes and the increasing cost of food.

Some days she worries that she might lose the restaurant that has been passed down in her family for 87 years.

“The city is raising the rent in July and I haven’t had enough business recently because of the rain. No one wants to come out,” she said last week.

Briano, whose family emigrated from Zacatecas, Mexico, to the United States in the early 20th century, said that more than any other issue, her primary concerns revolve around preserving her restaurant.

Her worries about her economic livelihood are typical among Latinos, who cite economic stability and other issues as their top priorities despite the roiling, high-profile debates over illegal immigration and the Trump administration’s talk about stepped-up deportations, according to a Pew Research Center survey released last week.

The survey, which was conducted before President Trump’s inauguration, explored how Latinos — whether American-born or immigrants — viewed their status in the U.S. and expectations they had about the Trump presidency.

Despite the contentious debate over illegal immigration during and after the election, the Pew study found that improving the education system, defending the country from future terrorist attacks and strengthening the nation’s economy were the top issues for Latinos in the U.S.

”This pattern … has been fairly consistent for a number of years in Pew Research Center surveys,” the report said.

As Carlos Mayoral ate lunch outside a downtown building during his break on Thursday, he recalled how little he cared about school when he was growing up. Now a construction worker in L.A. and a father of three, Mayoral said his priorities have shifted.

“I want my kids to do better than me. I’m working hard so that they can go to college. A good education for them is what’s on my mind,” Mayoral said.

His oldest child is 18 years old and will graduate from North Hollywood High School this year and plans to pursue computer science in college, Mayoral said.

Although this and other findings in the survey correlate with what researchers have said in previous years, there was one finding that especially stood out: Latinos in the U.S. were split about what Trump’s presidency meant for their place here.

The survey found that 41% of Latinos worried about their future after Trump’s election, and 54% felt confident about their situation; how they responded strongly correlated to their legal status in the U.S.

Immigrants in the country illegally and legal residents who are not U.S. citizens expressed more pessimism about their situation.

By contrast, 34% of Latinos who are U.S. citizens said they were concerned about their status in the country.

The survey also found that a growing share of Latinos felt worse about how they stand now compared with a year earlier than in previous surveys.

“The share today that says the group’s situation has worsened is about double the share that said the same in 2013,” the report said.

For some Latinos, immigration was very much a top concern.

Alejandro Cazares worries that he will be torn away from his wife, Pestrella Cazares, and his five kids. Cazares has been living in the U.S. for 22 years after coming here illegally and said that he has had to adjust his lifestyle since Trump became president.

“I can’t work and I’m scared to go out alone these days. I only go out if my family is with me,” Cazares said Thursday as he, his wife and children took a walk on Broadway near Grand Central Market.

Pestrella Cazares, worried about how she would raise her five children if her husband were to be deported.

”I’m scared. I could become a single mom any day now,” she said.

About half of Latinos surveyed said they worried about the possibility of increased deportations under Trump.

The survey also found that 47% of Latinos worried to some extent that they or a family member or close friend could be deported.

Briano employs five people at her restaurant and said that some of them worry that they will be deported under Trump.

“‘Will they take me?’ some ask. I tell them that I think they’ll be OK,” she said.

Latinos held similar views regarding deportations in 2013, according to the Pew survey.

But there was an easing of concerns after President Obama issued a series of executive orders that protected some immigrants from deportation.

Immigration could rise as a priority for Latinos in future surveys conducted after Trump’s ascension to the White House.

Last month the Trump administration swept aside almost all restrictions for the removal of 11 million people in the U.S. illegally, opening the door to a major expansion of the federal government’s deportation priorities.

melissa.etehad@latimes.com

Follow me on Twitter @melissaetehad

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UPDATES:

11:25 a.m., March 3: This article was updated with comments from Los Angeles residents.

This article was originally published at 11 a.m., Feb. 23.

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