In the wake of the Trump administration’s new deportation plan have come a series of heartbreaking stories of undocumented immigrants living in fear, families being separated and individuals summarily rounded up, detained and likely deported for nothing more than using a false social security number. Yet even before these policies, after an ugly campaign smearing immigrants and threatening mass deportations, the U.S. Hispanic community remains confident, comfortable in their communities, and—dare we say it—American in their optimism.
When President Donald Trump announced the new deportation plan on February 20, 2017, he said the point was to focus on the “really bad dudes”—undocumented immigrants that had committed felonies and represented a threat to U.S. citizens. Never mind the fact that fewer than 3% of all undocumented immigrants have committed felonies, compared to 6% of the entire population.
But in the policy directive, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) broadened the criteria for who should be prioritized for deportation. The directive gave officers broad discretion to detain anyone who committed a crime—even if not convicted—regardless of the severity of their crimes, and whether or not those crimes could result in criminal charges. Within those broad parameters, the dragnet will likely expand; the new DHS policy calls for the hiring of 10,000 additional immigration and customs enforcement agents and 5,000 customs and border protection agents.
In the face of the threat of enforcement, a regular diet of stories of detentions, family separations and thinly veiled racist rhetoric, how do the Latinos feel about their prospects in a Trump administration? You would expect an overwhelming majority—documented and undocumented alike—to be scared, insecure.
Not so fast.
According to a Pew Research study conducted before Trump was inaugurated, 54% of Latinos are confident about their place in America. When broken down by immigration status, those numbers become more nuanced, but Hispanics were still not as shaken by the rhetoric and tough campaign promises of then president-elect Trump as you’d expect.
Sixty percent of foreign-born Hispanics who are U.S. citizens said they were confident about their place in America, as were 46% of the lawful permanent residents and 39% of the undocumented immigrants. Given all the rhetoric and angry mobs at Trump rallies, the numbers appear surprisingly—if not inspiringly—high.
Regarding the future, while Hispanics’ optimism has worsened in the past year, the levels have still not reached those during the financial crisis, when 50% of Hispanics said their situation was worse than the previous year. As of January this year, only 32% of Hispanics believed that their situation is worse this year than last, a number that increases to 42% for the undocumented immigrants—but still not a majority.
Fear of deportation (of themselves, a family member or a close friend) is high, but according to Pew, levels have remained steady or, for some groups, even lower over the past few years. In 2010, 84% of the undocumented immigrants were very afraid of deportation; as of January this year only 67% were. Granted, this survey was conducted between December 7, 2016 and January 15, 2017, right before Trump’s inauguration, when many believed he could soften some of his campaign promises. But the survey still came after a bruising campaign in which the president-elect had called Mexicans rapists and criminals, threatened to build a wall along the U.S. border and rallied angry mobs against undocumented immigrants.
All of this is not to say that Hispanics support Trump or have confidence in the job he’ll do. But even then, Hispanics remain surprisingly optimistic. Only 40% of Hispanics surveyed in the December 2016-January 2017 survey think Trump will be a poor or terrible president; 22% think he will be great or good.
Part of this could be explained by the low priority that many Hispanics place on immigration generally. Only 43% of Hispanics think immigration should be a top priority, well behind improving the educational system (73%), defending the country from future terrorist attacks (69%), strengthening the nation’s economy (66%), and reducing health care cost (54%).
Optimistic? Confident in their communities? Concerned about education, terrorism and health care? Undaunted?
Welcome to the American dream.