What Do Missourians Really Think of Immigrants?

C'mon in, huddled masses!
C'mon in, huddled masses!
A new study by researchers at Saint Louis University looks at how Missourians feel about immigrants living in our state. Turns out, we hew pretty closely to the national conversation, and our feelings break down somewhat predictably by political party affiliation. There are some interesting differences in perceptions on either end of the Show-Me State, too.

"We tried to get an empirical idea of what people think about immigration," says Dr. Onesimo Sandoval, an assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice at SLU, and one of the study's lead authors.

It was important to pin down precisely what peoples' thoughts were, he says, because often the loudest voices, in the form of bloggers or commenters on newspaper articles, seemed to be much more strident than the average citizen. So the researchers dialed 800 randomly-generated Missouri phone numbers and asked away.

Missouri has had a 41 percent increase in immigrants living in the state since 2000, with about 20,000 new immigrants moving in every year -- half from other states and half from abroad.

While Sandoval says it's difficult to come up with a precise figure, he says there are between 40,000 and 75,000 unauthorized immigrants here, making up one percent of the population and 1.5 percent of the workforce.

"The vast majority of immigrants in Missouri are here legally," he says.

Here in Missouri, 60 percent of people think the country is on the wrong track when it comes to dealing with immigration issues, compared with 78 percent nationwide. Both nationally and in Missouri, 55 percent of people think immigrants have a positive effect on a community.

Out of a list of eleven concerns people in the state thought were important, immigration ranked 11th. Ahead of it were the economy (No. 1) and issues like education, health care and moral values.

Dr. Sandoval said he was surprised to see that St. Louis residents had a much higher opinion of immigrants than people living in Kansas City, and he has a theory on why that's so.

"St. Louis has twice as many immigrants, but Kansas City has more Mexicans," he says. "The anti-immigration sentiment is directed at Mexicans. The connection of 'undocumented' with 'immigrants' poisoned the association."

Or perhaps we're just more evolved on this end of I-70:

"Maybe people from St. Louis are more appreciative of immigrants."
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