Chicago TribuneTuesday, September 4, 2001
Suburbs Split on Diversity
By wide margins, suburban residents oppose bilingual education in their schools and dislike a plan being considered by the Bush administration to grant another amnesty to undocumented workers, according to a new Tribune/WGN-TV poll.
The survey also found that nearly half of suburban residents thought the government should reduce legal immigration. Despite such sentiments, the poll found that residents in the six-county suburban area believe their neighborhoods are becoming increasingly diverse and see that as a positive sign.
"The diversity is growing, but we're not there yet in the suburbs," said Denise Collins, a stay-at-home mom from Chicago Ridge. "If the community is more diverse, we are exposed to more cultures and customs. It's a wonderful learning experience for everybody."
Still, Collins said she thinks immigration should be reduced because the United States should deal with poverty and other problems at home before welcoming more newcomers.
The survey of nearly 1,200 heads of households across the six-county suburban area was taken July 18-26 by Market Shares Corp. of Mt. Prospect. The margin of error was 3 percentage points.
Forty-four percent of those polled said they would like to see their communities become more diverse, with 35 percent opposed to greater diversity and 22 percent undecided.
About seven out of 10 said they have close friends of other racial or ethnic groups and believe that minorities would feel accepted if they moved to their neighborhoods.
But by a 2-1 ratio, suburbanites opposed giving legal residency status to undocumented immigrants, as President Bush is expected to propose. And 47 percent said they think government should reduce legal immigration, while 34 percent said immigration should not be slowed and 19 percent said they didn't know.
The poll showed that the use of foreign languages instead of English is a particularly divisive issue in the suburbs.
Sixty-one percent of those who participated in the poll said they think immigrant children should be taught in English only, not in their native language.
"Diversity is a great thing as long as we remember that English is the major language," said John Sunde, 66, of Schaumburg.
Sunde, a retired salesman, said he is frustrated when he goes to a store and cannot ask an employee a question in English.
"That's not the way it should be," he said. "Communication is a sore point with me."
Earlier this year, the U.S. Census Bureau confirmed dramatic increases in the suburban minority populations during the 1990s, including large numbers of immigrants.
The poll found that older respondents who had lived longer in the suburbs were more likely to oppose greater diversity than younger people who moved relatively recently to suburban Cook County or the collar counties.
Jackie Anderson, 59, said increased diversity has damaged the quality of life in her hometown of Elgin. She traces the decline to the introduction of low-income housing, which she believes "brought in a lot of gangs and things like that from Chicago."
Several other respondents who said they did not want their communities to become more diverse declined comment when asked to elaborate on the comments they gave pollsters.
By contrast, 21-year-old Julie Vahos of Cary said she sees no reason not to welcome the increased diversity of McHenry County. After growing up in Buffalo Grove, Vahos said she grew to empathize more with minorities as she became friends with Mexican-Americans.
Her perspective changed when she was in a car with Hispanic friends who she said were victims of racial profiling by suburban police.
"A lot of people are prejudiced against Mexicans because they live 10 people to a house," Vahos said.
"But Mexican people love their families and work hard. They live together to help each other get ahead and spend more quality time with each other," she said.
Yvette Allen-Lomaro, 35, of Algonquin said foreign languages should be taught in school.
She said increased diversity and foreign-language instruction could help her 3-year-old daughter become "more well-rounded and accepting. We would be less ethnocentric if we knew other languages and other cultures."
Advocates for immigrants noted that other recent surveys have found greater support for immigrants, even illegal immigrants, than the poll indicated.
They point out that support for an amnesty rises when pollsters remind respondents that many illegal immigrants work, pay taxes and have relatives who are either U.S. citizens or are legal permanent residents. Participants in the Tribune/WGN-TV poll were asked: "The Bush Administration is considering giving legal residency status to illegal immigrants. Do you favor or oppose this plan?"
"It's a recent trend for immigrants to move to the suburbs or to rural areas, so people are still adjusting to that," said Rhoda Rae Gutierrez, spokeswoman for the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights in Chicago.
"It takes time. When someone is living the same way for 30 or 40 years, I can see why they are resistant to change."
Suburbanites polled about diversity, immigration.; Suburban residents were asked a series of questions about ethnic and racial diversity in their communities, immigration and education policies. Some of their responses:
Q: Do you think government should take steps to reduce immigration, or should they not reduce immigration? Reduce immigration, 47%; Do not reduce immigration, 34%; Don't know, 19%.
Q: Should English be the only language used in school classrooms, or should immigrant children be able to take some classes in their native language? English only, 61%; Other languages, 33%; Don't know, 6%.
Q: The Bush Administration is considering giving legal residency status to illegal immigrants. Do you favor or oppose this plan? Oppose, 56%; Favor, 28%; Don't know, 16%.
Source: Tribune poll conducted by Market Shares Corp., based on telephone
interviews conducted between July 18 and 26 with a random sample of 1,196
heads of household in suburban Cook County and DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry
and Will Counties. Margin of error is (plus/minus) three percentage points.