It is harder to be Latino in America than it was before Donald Trump was elected, according to a new survey from the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.
Nearly half of Hispanics say the situation has worsened for people of their ethnicity in the past year — up from about a third just after the 2016 elections. A similar percentage are insecure about their place in the United States with Trump as president, and over 6 in 10 are dissatisfied with the way things are going in the country — the highest rate since the 2008 recession.
The survey — of citizens and noncitizens, immigrants, and native-born people — comes in the final days before the midterm elections, as the Trump administration has moved to curb both legal and illegal immigration and is threatening to close the southwest border to stop a caravan of Central American migrants hoping to seek asylum in the United States.
Two-thirds of Hispanics say the government’s actions — which include lowering the bar for deportations, a now-rescinded effort to separate families at the border, scaling back protections for immigrants brought to the United States as children and reversing parts of the Affordable Care Act — have been harmful to Hispanics.
They describe an anxiety that is increasingly familiar to Eyhvy Osorio, 41, of Prince George’s County, Md., a legal resident from Guatemala who has grown more worried about her own status and that of her undocumented relatives since Trump took office.
“I don’t even know how to advise them anymore,” said Osorio, recalling a time when a relative needed surgery but was too scared to seek medical attention. “In my mind, I know they should be safe going to a hospital, but I can’t tell them that for certain. These days, anything can happen.”
Though political engagement varies among subgroups, the survey found that Latinos are generally more interested in and focused on the midterm elections than they have been in the past. Latinos historically turn out at lower rates than other groups of voters — with still-lower turnout in nonpresidential years — but the survey found that 52 percent of the nation’s 29 million eligible Hispanic voters say they have thought a lot about the midterms, up sharply from 35 percent in 2014.
Among the 23 percent of Hispanic adults who identify or lean Republican, roughly 6 in 10 approve of Trump’s performance, compared with fewer than 1 in 10 Latino Democrats. U.S.-born Latinos are considerably more confident about their place in this country than their foreign-born counterparts, although about 4 in 10 of those born here also say they have serious concerns now that Trump is president. Nearly 3 in 4 Hispanic women are dissatisfied with the way things are going, compared with half of Hispanic men.
Traditionally, Latinos have reported feeling more optimistic than other demographic groups about life in the United States — and the overwhelming majority of Hispanics continue to see the United States as a place of opportunity. But in the past three years, the share of Hispanics who expect their children to be better off financially than they are declined by 18 points — including drops among both Republicans and Democrats.
Law student Isabel Mendoza was brought to North Carolina from Mexico by her parents two decades ago. Even though they were undocumented, they never discussed going back. Now, however, that option is part of the family contingency plan.
“The fear of deportation has never been so in my face as it is now,” said Mendoza, who is protected from deportation by the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which the Trump administration is trying to terminate.
Immigrant arrests and deportations of longtime residents have surged under Trump, heightening fear and mistrust of law enforcement in Latino communities, advocates say. Some 55 percent of Latinos say they worry that a relative or close friend will be deported, up from 47 percent a year ago. The number of Latinos born outside the country who say they would migrate again declined from 79 percent to 70 percent.
Tatiana Torres, 36, migrated to the United States at age 5, fleeing drug violence in Colombia. Now a naturalized citizen working for a D.C. health-care company, Torres said she feels deeply connected to young DACA recipients worried about their future status.
“That could have been me,” said Torres, who lives in Northeast Washington. “That could have been my life.”
Bob Libal, who leads a Texas-based community organization that opposes raids, detentions and deportations, said reports of arrests at courthouses and outside school buildings have left Latinos feeling as though their community is under “huge assault.”
“One of the things that has become clear is that any arrest can lead to a deportation,” Libal said.
The government has made it harder for immigrants to seek asylum, obtain legal residency or apply for visas to enter the country legally, in part by adding new vetting requirements and restricting access to those whom the government believes could become “public charges.”
Clarissa Martínez-de-Castro, the deputy vice president of policy and advocacy at UNIDOS US, the country’s largest Latino civil rights group, said the Trump administration has effectively “weaponized” the issue of immigration “to demonize not just the population of immigrants but any population they deem to be immigrant.”
Nearly 4 in 10 Latinos said they had experienced one of five types of discrimination in the past year, according to the Pew survey, such as being told to go back to their countries or being mistreated for things such as speaking Spanish or displaying symbols of Hispanic identity. An equal number said someone had expressed support for them during that period because they are Hispanic.
After Trump was elected, Torres said, her green-card-holding mother started bringing along all her residency papers every time she left the house.
“In the years that we have lived in this country, she has never done that,” Torres said of her mother, who became a citizen in May. “What if my parents are speaking in Spanish at a store and someone gets upset with them and beats them?”
Chris Chu de León, a 25-year-old field manager for the U.S. Senate campaign of Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Tex.), said he and his friends feel a surging sense of empowerment to push back against policies that hurt their communities and, at the same time, the pressure to avoid conflict.
“There is this sense that if I say something wrong or do something wrong, someone could react really violently or in an incredibly hurtful and pernicious way,” said de León, the son of Chinese and Mexican parents. “It’s difficult to be living in a time when we are being validated by some and dismissed by the majority.”
Retired trucker Fred Gonzales said he experienced racism as a child in Ohio, when he was the only Latino in his school. But the 57-year-old San Antonio resident said he was surprised to experience it more recently, when he went inside a restaurant and was refused service.
“I had some choice words for the manager,” Gonzales said. “But I couldn’t believe we were still doing this today, and in — of all places — Texas? It’s full of Mexicans.”
Despite his strong opinions, Gonzales steers clear of politics. He has never voted, and he says he has yet to meet a politician he thinks can accurately represent his experience.
That dissatisfaction was reflected in the Pew survey, with the share of Latino registered voters who say the Democratic Party is more concerned about them declining 11 points since 2015, to 48 percent. Fourteen percent of Latinos said the Republican Party had more concern for them, a small change from 12 percent three years ago. The share who see no difference jumped from 22 percent to 32 percent.
Increased enthusiasm for the midterms among Latinos dissipates among the young, theless educated and those voters who are naturalized citizens born outside the United States.
Yolidia Escalante, 43, of Herndon, Va., said she is torn between her Christian, antiabortion views and her experiences as a Nicaraguan immigrant. “I don’t even know who the candidates are, I have no idea who is the Democratic Party, and who is running for the other party,” she said.
Carmen Sanchez, 53, a Peruvian immigrant who works in banking in Northern Virginia, said she won’t be voting because she lost faith in Democrats after they failed to pass promised immigration reforms.
“I didn’t see changes for our people, for Latinos, under Obama,” she said, adding that her undocumented friends were “waiting for any hope or good news. But there’s no hope for them.”
The Pew survey was conducted July 26 to Sept. 9 among a random national sample of 1,501 adults who identify as Hispanic or Latino, reached on cell and landline phones. Interviews were conducted in Spanish and English; the margin of sampling error for overall results is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
Scott Clement contributed to this report.