Landscape | Spring 2017 Issue

UCLA Poll Finds Fear for Immigrants

New Luskin poll finds Angelenos concerned for undocumented neighbors.

By Jim Newton

This is what fear does.

In late March, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck announced that reports of sexual abuse and domestic violence by Latinos in Los Angeles had dropped dramatically since the first of the year — alleged sexual assaults were down by 25%, and reports of domestic violence decreased 10%.

It’s possible, of course, that those decreases are good news, that warnings about violence have gotten through at last, and that predators are rethinking their ways. But why only among Latinos?
A recent poll by UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs — the annual Los Angeles County Quality of Life Index undertaken by former County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky — unearthed some unsettling truths about life in this county: More and more residents complain of commutes so long that they degrade the overall quality of life; housing costs, particularly for the young, are an increasingly stressful burden; a shocking number of people worry about becoming homeless or being forced to go without a meal.

But among those disturbing findings, one stood out in particular — and it sheds light on the crime statistics: 37% of those living in this community, and more than half of all Latinos, said they are afraid that a friend or family member could face deportation at any moment; of those, 80% said they would worry about advising a friend to enroll in any government program because of that risk. This, in a county where most residents feel good about race relations, even relations with police. A national cloud, a stigma about immigration, has descended even over the relatively strong community ties being bound in California.

Set aside goodwill for a moment, and consider in this regard just the grind-it-out basics of racial self-interest. Is it in the best interests of a third-generation Anglo-American, a white man driving an American car to his American home in his American, suburb to have his Latino neighbor keep the details of her sexual assault to herself? Where will her assailant strike next? Is it good for that white man to have his Latino co-worker avoid vaccinations or child support? Will the poverty or disease of his co-worker’s children help or hinder his own? Will his life be better because his neighbors’ lives are worse?

These are not the questions of a civilized society. They are the questions created by fear and division. Latinos are no more likely than any other group to commit or suffer domestic violence or sexual abuse; they are only, these days, the least likely to reach out for assistance — for fear that their government will punish them for seeking help and exposing harm.

That should shock us all.

Jim Newton

Jim Newton

Jim Newton is a veteran author, teacher and journalist who spent 25 years as a reporter, editor, bureau chief, editorial page editor and columnist at the Los Angeles Times. He is the author of four critically acclaimed books of biography and history, including "Man of Tomorrow: The Relentless Life of Jerry Brown." He teaches in Communication Studies and Public Policy at UCLA.

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