Immigration ambivalence in suburbia

April 5, 2013

Immigration ambivalence in suburbia

Evidence from Lake County


One local-level trend related to the growth of the immigrant population has been the influx of immigrants into the Chicago suburbs, either from the city, or directly from their home countries. Lake County, a region that includes the suburbs Highland Park, Highwood, North Chicago, Round Lake/Round Lake Beach, and Waukegan, has experienced a 332 percent increase in its largely Latino immigrant population since 1980. That’s a near tripling of the population in less than 35 years.

“Lake County provides a window into the landscape of communities that are experiencing rapid increases in immigrant populations,” wrote Maria Krysan, Matthew Hall and Patrick Washington in this policy brief. The policy brief zeros in on trends in attitudes toward the immigrant population held by native-born residents in the Lake County region.

“The overall message from our survey data is that there is deep ambivalence among native-born Lake County residents about immigration,” the researchers wrote. “Immigrants and immigration are simultaneously admired, resented, and distrusted. At the same time, immigrants are part of the fabric of community life for the residents we talked to.”

Some findings discussed in the policy brief include:

  • Residents living in the Lake County region have substantial contact with Latinos and/or immigrants, with 61 percent reporting interacting with co-workers who are Latino every day or almost every day.
  • Despite fairly high levels of interaction with Latino immigrants, native-born residents “have inconsistent attitudes and perceptions toward them,” the researchers report. The study found that generally, the respondents perceive the productivity and perseverance of Latino immigrants, and only a minority of respondents endorse the belief that Latino immigrants are “not willing or not at all willing” to learn English.
  • However, the study also revealed some resentment among the respondents. A majority of respondents (55 percent and 61 percent, respectively) agreed that immigrants take American workers’ jobs, and use too many government services.
  • Questions about immigration policy objectives revealed complexity in how natives think about immigration. Many respondents supported policies that would negatively affect the immigrant population (i.e. 54 percent supported deportation of undocumented immigrants) but a strong majority favored policies that would provide opportunities for immigrants (i.e. 83 percent supported the DREAM Act).

The researchers conclude: “While ambivalence could be a sign of indifference or uncertainty about the role of immigrants in American life, it likely reflects recognition on behalf of native residents that immigration both contributes to and challenges major U.S. institutions in important ways.”


(.PDF 457.36 KB)

Research Area: Politics & Government

Policy Initiative: none