Research by the center and PolicyLink, a national organization that studies economic and social issues, found that 70 percent of respondents believe Americans will benefit from learning more about different cultures through growing diversity. But 47 percent in the survey said they’re worried that crime will increase as ethnic minorities move into neighborhoods.
“Based on what we know, it goes hand-in-hand with people feeling threatened by immigrants, and that could be part of the explanation,” said Vanessa Cardenas, vice president of the center’s Progress 2050, a project that advocates for more inclusion of ethnic minorities. “They haven’t had the opportunity to be exposed to different races.”
The poll, released Tuesday, surveyed about 3,000 Americans, including samples of African-Americans, Latinos and Asian-Americans. The questionnaire survey, taken last June and July 2013, was offered in English, Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean and Vietnamese.
The new findings relate to another recent study by Bianca Bersani, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts Boston, which found that second-generation American youth are more likely than their foreign-born peers living in America to commit crimes.
The study surveyed second-generation youth with native-born parents, or at least one foreign-born parent.
“Many people set up this difference where they’re [second-generation] sort of caught in this cultural conflict,” Bersani said. “They sort of don’t fit in with their parents’ generation … but they also don’t fit in mainstream America.”
Research from the Immigration Policy Center, an organization focused on immigration analysis, found that between 1990 and 2010, while the foreign-born population in the U.S. increased from 8 percent to 13 percent, the number of violent crimes fell by 45 percent. Cities with larger immigrant populations, including Los Angeles, New York and Chicago, also experienced a decline in crime rates, the Immigration Policy Center found.
“Immigration is not associated with higher crime rates,” Walter Ewing, senior researcher at the Immigration Policy Center, said. “This is a popular perception that has been contrary to the facts. It’s a fear-based response that the other is going to hurt you.”
Experts say this fear of the other can have negative impacts on policies related to diversity issues.
“Usually we hear a lot of these misconceptions in the media and many different places, and people go by those misconceptions and the things they hear,” said Jaime Farrant, executive director of AYUDA, an organization that advocates for lower-income immigrants. “I would turn the question around and say, how can we make this country more welcoming to immigrants?”
As Congress continues to debate immigration reform, some are concerned about how new policies will affect Americans.
“I think there’s an openness to immigration in this country,” said Ira Mehlman, spokesman for FAIR, a national nonprofit that seeks to improve border security and halt illegal immigration, “but immigration reform like beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It is taken from the perspective of the people who broke the laws [entered the country illegally] and not from the perspective of who have been harmed by the failure to enforce these laws.”
Experts say more exposure to different cultures could help Americans become more familiar and comfortable with immigrants and other ethnic minorities.
“As we go through the demographic changes,” Cardenas said, “the conversation is not going to be about what divides us, but what challenges we need to meet as a community and a nation. What we know is that the human story is what connects everybody.”