Study Surveys Immigrant Experience
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Most immigrants, who live in the United States, came here with very little money, felt part of the community within five years of coming and say they would do it all over again. Those are some of the findings of a survey of immigrants conducted by the research organization Public Agenda. Scott Bittle is one of the authors of this study, which is called "A Place to Call Home: What Immigrants Say Now About Life in America," and he joins us from our bureau in New York.
Mr. SCOTT BITTLE (Director of Public Issues Analysis, Public Agenda; Co-author, "A Place to Call Home: What Immigrants Say Now About Life in America,"): Hi.
SIEGEL: Some of the more surprising answers, I thought in your survey, came in response to questions about discrimination and what immigrants say about it. What did you find?
Mr. BITTLE: Well, it's very interesting and maybe some people would argue counterintuitive. Overall, about six in 10 immigrants say that there is at least some discrimination against immigrants in the United States. And that's very consistent from the last time we surveyed them in 2002. About a quarter say they've experienced at least some discrimination personally. But when you look at it by different groups, you get very different results. For example, Mexican immigrants are much more likely to say there's discrimination against immigrants in the United States, three-quarters say that, but they're no more likely to experience it personally. Muslim immigrants, by contrast, are less likely to perceive discrimination in the broader society and just as likely to see it - to experience it personally.
SIEGEL: Now, when we speak of Muslim immigrants in America, we're speaking largely of the South Asian community, no?
Mr. BITTLE: Yes. I mean, it's a mix. They could come from a great many countries in the world, but it includes South Asia, as well as the Middle East.
SIEGEL: This is a survey in which people are, they are self-reporting the experience of discrimination. Do you run up against cultural or political differences for that matter, in how likely people are to report and complain?
Mr. BITTLE: Well, very much so because the experiences can be very different, and if you look at the survey, Mexican immigrants are less likely to be citizens, they're more likely to be undocumented, they're more likely to have come here with less money and to say they don't speak English as well. By contrast, for example, Muslim immigrants, three in four came here before 2001, more likely to be citizens, report very good English language skills. So the experiences of those two groups are going to be different.
SIEGEL: I was very struck by the answers to the question: How long did it take you to feel that you belonged here and felt part of the community? Did you feel that within two years of coming? Did you feel it within five years of coming? I think, within five years, you get something like 70 percent of immigrants saying, yeah, I felt like I was part of the community and, in effect, integrated into American life.
Mr. BITTLE: Absolutely, and 47 percent, nearly half, said within two years, and yet we found, since 2002, their ties to their birth country are actually getting stronger. They call home more frequently, they send money home more often, and these trends are not contradictory.
SIEGEL: You asked the question about children, would the children - would they likely stay here or go back to the home country, and there's no contest.
Mr. BITTLE: Absolutely. A strong majority say it's not only unlikely, but very unlikely that their children will go back to their parents' birth country.
SIEGEL: The optimistic picture of the immigrant experience that emerges from this - let's just put this in some context, this is in the thick of the worst recession since the Great Depression with two wars underway, and the country still looks awfully good to people who have come here by choice.
Mr. BITTLE: Absolutely, and after several years of a really ferocious immigration debate about how welcoming the country should be and what the policy should be. So this is an amazingly strong endorsement of the American idea.
SIEGEL: Well, Scott Bittle, thank you very much for talking with us.
Mr. BITTLE: Thank you for having me.
SIEGEL: Mr. Bittle is with the research organization Public Agenda, and their study is called "A Place To Call Home: What Immigrants Say Now About Life In America."
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