Latinos Also Divided Over Immigrant Rights

Latinos also divided over immigrant rights
Critics say some are asking for too much

By Franco Ordoez
The Charlotte Observer (NC), June 22, 2009

As the immigration debate heats up across the country, a new study shows Latinos in Charlotte-Mecklenburg are as divided over immigration reform as any other group and possibly more so.

The Crossroads Social Capital study, which measured social ties in the community, found almost six out of 10 Latinos (58 percent) in Charlotte-Mecklenburg feel immigrants are 'too demanding in their push for equal rights.'

'I'm upset at some of the demands I hear some parts of the illegal community making,' said Ricardo Mata, a Venezuelan native who has lived in the country for two decades. 'Sometimes, I get fed up at the double standards I see.'

Mata, a Charlotte businessman who was not interviewed in the study, said he's frustrated by what he sees as increasing demands by some immigrants and fewer examples of how the undocumented will contribute to society if legalized. He supports legalizing some undocumented immigrants but feels less than half have demonstrated they really want to be part of America.

Critics of the study's findings say they reflect only a small segment of the community and not the majority of Latinos who do support immigration reform.

'I think the people who were surveyed were mostly established Latinos who are not having to face this issue,' said Angeles Ortega-Moore, executive director of the Latin-American Coalition.

One hundred seven people who identified themselves as Hispanic or Latino participated in the Crossroads study. The full study's margin of error was plus or minus 3.24 percentage points.

While the findings don't appear to track national trends, they do seem to follow economic and generational lines. The longer and more successful Latinos have been in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, the more likely they are to think newly arrived immigrants are too pushy.

The study also shows that Latinos are not monolithic thinkers and that some disagree with parts of the immigrant rights movement.

Latinos are diverse

For most of the 20th century, there were few Latinos in Charlotte. By 1990, about 7,000 lived here.

Today, it's the fastest-growing minority community in the state. Latinos make up 10 percent of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg population, 7 percent of the state's.

Nearly half of the county's 80,000 Latinos have Mexican roots, but thousands come from all over Central and South America.

Victor Guzman, a business owner and television producer from Puerto Rico, said it's sometimes a fight to clarify that not all Latinos are from Mexico and poor.

Many are businesspeople, doctors and lawyers from Argentina, Colombia and Venezuela. Some have multiple degrees and money.

They are Democrats, Republicans and Independents with wide-ranging views and backgrounds.

'It's not all the same mindset,' Guzman said. 'It's like going to the end of Charlotte to Ballantyne and asking questions and then going to West Boulevard and asking the same questions. You're going to get different answers.'

Even in one household, opinions can vary dramatically.

Maria Petrea, whose family is from Panama, doesn't think immigrants are asking too much, but her mother does.

'My mother is now 88,' said Petrea, who is principal of the Collinswood Language Academy, which is 60 percent Latino. 'She came to the country when she was 22. She feels immigrants are too demanding. She would tell you they need to become Americanized and at the same time value their own culture. But don't expect people everywhere to speak for them or interpret for them.'

Eric Caratao, a research specialist at the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute who authored the Crossroads study, said about half of the Latinos surveyed were longtime residents.

In his 2009 study on Latino views on immigration reform, Latino studies professor Louis DeSipio of University of California, Irvine found opinions depended on several socioeconomic factors.

Support was strongest among immigrants, poor Latinos and Mexican descendants while conservatives, long-term residents, and U.S.-born Latinos were more likely to back restrictions.

Class structure

The middle class is small in Latin America compared with U.S. standards. Wide gaps exist between the upper and lower economic classes. Many Latinos in America live with the same social structures.

Violeta Moser, a research consultant from Peru, said immigrants are more demanding because they're suffering greater levels of discrimination and human-rights violations. But she said some more-established Latinos may not understand the plight poorer immigrants face and others resent being 'pulled into the illegal immigrant issue.'

Former Mecklenburg County commissioner Dan Ramirez, who is from Colombia, says that most Latinos support immigration reform but that some don't want illegal immigrants to 'force the issue' so much.

Ortega-Moore of the Latin American Coalition, called it 'immigration fatigue.'

'It's such a divisive issue and it's really full of emotion,' she said. 'One of the fears is the individual, who is here established and legally in the country, is saying I don't want to be compared with those people who are undocumented.''

When Victor Guzman was more involved with local advocacy in the 1990s, he said the immigrant-rights movement focused more on human rights. But he now feels some groups, particularly on the West Coast, have gone 'overboard.'

He questions demands for health benefits for the undocumented or that schools teach in Spanish.

'You sit there and think, Wait a minute, hold on,'' Guzman said. 'You want them treated humanely, but then when they go beyond that and want more and more. And the more radical they get, the more they cast a negative light on the whole situation.'

EDITRORS NOTE: The 2008 Social Capital Benchmark Survey is available online at: