The Times poll: Most Latinos back amnesty for aliens


On an issue where opinions fall along ethnic lines, three-fourths of Latinos in California favor amnesty for illegal immigrants while slightly more than half of Anglos and blacks oppose it, the Los Angeles Times Poll has found.

Amnesty proposals, part of the first major congressional revision of this nation’s immigration laws and policy since 1952, would give legal resident status to millions of illegal immigrants in the United States. The Senate version would grant amnesty to immigrants who have been in the country illegally since the start of 1980. The House version would set a 1982 effective date.

The 4-1 margin of approval by Latinos shows a “feeling of comradeship toward people of the same cultural heritage,” said I. A. Lewis, director of The Times Poll. Mexicans seeking to improve themselves economically and Central American refugees make up the greatest number of illegal immigrants in the country.


“Latinos understand the pressure people live under when they are faced with constant fear of deportation,” said Leobardo Estrada, a UCLA demographer. “Many Latinos have relatives who are here under those circumstances and they feel amnesty would ease the pressure.”

The opposition to amnesty among Anglos is by a narrow 5-4 margin, the poll found. Blacks opposed amnesty by a 5-3 margin.

The split between Latinos and non-Latinos on amnesty is just one of several instances of divergent viewpoints on important issues, the poll found.

For example, another controversial section of the immigration proposals before Congress would punish employers who hire illegal aliens. The Times Poll found that 70% of Anglos and 85% of blacks favor this.

These findings, particularly for blacks, “show a concern for competition in the workplace,” with illegal alien Latinos, Lewis said. Blacks quite likely see sanctions against employers as a way to discourage the flow and hiring of undocumented workers, Lewis said.

Latinos, meanwhile, oppose punishing employers for hiring illegal aliens by a 5-3 margin. A statistical breakdown of Latinos, however, reveals that native-born Latinos are divided on the issue, while foreign-born Latinos oppose the sanctions by a 3-1 margin.


Unlike last year when immigration measures withered in Congress, some form of compromise legislation is expected to be approved this year. A House vote is pending on the sweeping immigration bill sponsored by Rep. Romano L. Mazzoli (D-Ky.). the Senate version, sponsored by Sen. Alan K. Simpson (R-Wyo.), was passed on a 76-18 vote in May.

The prospect of congressional passage has spurred protests among Latino groups, Asian-Americans and civil libertarians. In Los Angeles, recently most of the 3,000 who demonstrated against the bills were Latinos. Many fear mass deportations of those who do not qualify for amnesty.

There also is concern that Mexican-Americans and other Latino citizens might become victims of discrimination by employers reluctant to hire any Latinos for fear of the sanctions.

Latino poll respondents, by better than a 2-1 margin, believe illegal immigrants contribute more to the economy through taxes and productivity than they receive in services and benefits. “When Latinos work long hours for little pay, it is hard for them to believe that they (illegal immigrants) are not making a contribution,” Lewis said. But Anglos and blacks feel just the opposite, with 69% of Anglos and 62% of blacks perceiving the aliens as getting more from the economy than they contribute to it.

This feeling, Lewis said, “is exacerbated by economic hard times.” Lewis added that “Anglos with the lowest income are the ones most likely to believe that Latinos are getting some kind of a handout.”


The exact number of illegal immigrants nationwide is impossible to determine. A Census Bureau study estimated that 2 million were counted in the 1980 Census. Other recent estimates of the total number of illegal immigrants, who come from every continent of the world, range as high as 6 million.

Among Latinos, about 1.3 million (about 9%) of the 14.6 million Spanish-origin people counted nationwide were illegal immigrants, the Census Bureau study estimated.

In The Times Poll, about 10% if Latino respondents admitted that they that they did not have immigration documents. Estrada, who is also a Census Bureau consultant, said this is “the base figure to start from.” He would add the nearly 2% who refused to answer the poll question to the total and estimates that the actual proportion of illegal immigrants among Latinos in California might be closer to 15%.

The poll results also showed that slightly more than half if the Latino respondents were born outside the United States, including 42% from Mexico and 6% from Central America. One-third of respondents were born in California and 15% in other U.S. states.

Nearly 25%of the Latinos born outside the country said they wanted to return to their country of origin while about 75% stated that they had been “able to put down roots” here.

On another subject, the issue of bilingual education, a split was evident between Latino and Anglo respondents, and among Latinos themselves. A plurality (45%) of Latinos surveyed believe bilingual education helps Spanish-speaking students to learn more quickly, while 34% think that it hurts because pupils might learn to speak English more slowly.

Among Anglos, 62% said bilingual education hurt students, while only 24% favored the concept. Blacks opposed bilingual education by a 4-3 margin.


On the question of police relations, 40% of Latinos said they thought police usually treat Anglos, blacks and Latinos alike. But only 34% of Anglos and 27% of blacks gave that response.

Of those within each group who thought police were not evenhanded, opinions differed on who receives the toughest treatment. Latinos tended to think they do, but Anglos and blacks tended to identify blacks as the group treated most harshly by police.

The 568 Latinos polled statewide were among 1,498 people surveyed at random by telephone in March. Interviews were conducted in both English and Spanish.

The margin of error in the poll was 3% in either direction, and plus or minus 6% for the Latino respondents alone.

This story appeared in print before the digital era and was later added to our digital archive.