Ryan Hagen, Staff Writer
Posted: 10/30/2010 03:41:02 PM PDT

A new study shows Latinos have soured considerably on illegal immigration in the last three years.

In 2007, 50percent of Latinos surveyed told the Pew Hispanic Center that the growing number of illegal immigrants was a positive force for the existing Latino population. In a Pew survey released Thursday, that number had plummeted to 29percent.

Thirty-one percent said illegal immigration had a negative effect, and 20percent said it had no effect.

While the wording of the question changed slightly in 2010 – striking the phrase “growing number” to reflect studies that show illegal immigration declining – several local advocates on different sides of the issue called the change in perception unsurprising.

Those Inland Empire voices diverged significantly, however, when it came to explaining the shift and what it means for immigration policy.

Raymond Herrera, president and founder of a Claremont-based group called We the People, California’s Crusader, said political will has been shifting since 2004.

Herrera said that’s when activists like him began loudly calling for reform, slowly building what he said is a national consensus that illegal immigrants should be deported.

“The Minutemen stood up six years ago and brought the awareness level to the American people,” he said. “It is now at an apex where … enough people have had their American dream stolen (by illegal immigrants).”

The head of a center that provides legal and other assistance to immigrants disagreed.

Emilio Amaya, executive director of the San Bernardino Community Resource Center, said the growing negative attitudes are an understandable but flawed response to a faltering economy.

“In these difficult financial times, even immigrants see themselves competing against new immigrants,” Amaya said. “(But) they don’t really compete because most people, older immigrants, they already have different (job) skills.”

Amaya said illegal immigrants should be fined and “sent to the back of the line,” matching the opinion of 53percent of Latinos. The Pew survey found 13percent of Latinos advocate deportation, while 28percent said illegal immigrants should not be punished.

Political and economic factors often shift Latino opinions of immigration, noted Cherstin Lyon, who studies at Cal State San Bernardino.

“Mexican-American populations have been divided throughout the 20thcentury, and (opinions) largely changed since the 1970s,” she said. “Most famously, Cesar Chavez came under intense attack from others within the Chicano movement because he … encouraged punishments of those hiring illegal immigrants.”

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