Looking at Immigrants’ Lives

Plenty of surveys examine Americans’ attitudes about immigration. A Public Agenda report, released this month, looks at how immigrants feel about their lives in this country.

When the survey asked immigrants how happy or disappointed they are with life in the U.S., just over half (53 percent) said they’re “somewhat happy” with it. But a mere 10 percent said they are “generally disappointed” with life in the U.S., while 34 percent described themselves as “extremely happy” with it.

Asked in the polling (conducted in May) whether they view the U.S. as their “permanent home,” 70 percent said it is. Seventeen percent expect to return to their native land; 3 percent think they’ll end up in some other nation. If they had it to do over again, 71 percent would come to the U.S., but 19 percent would stay in their birth country.

Discrimination is less of an issue than one might assume. Asked how much discrimination they’ve “personally experienced simply because you are an immigrant,” 9 percent said “a great deal.” Another 16 percent said “some.” But a majority said they’ve personally encountered “only a little” discrimination (35 percent) or “none at all” (38 percent). And the adjustment to life here came relatively quickly for many immigrants, with 47 percent saying it took “one to just under two years” for them “to feel comfortable here and a part of the community.” Just 5 percent said “I have never felt like I fit in.”

Still, maintaining their old cultural ties is an important aspect of life for many immigrants — and something many feel they can accomplish, with some variation depending on region of origin. Among immigrants who come from the Middle East, 66 percent agreed that “It’s easy for me to hold on to my culture and traditions in the U.S.,” as did 61 percent of those from South Asia, 59 percent of those from Mexico, 56 percent of those from Central/South America and 45 percent of those from East Asia. One reason they can do so is that many immigrants have a community here of people who come from the same country: 51 percent said “a lot” of the people they spend time with come from their home country.

Moreover, many immigrants keep in touch with people back in the old country. Twenty-eight percent of respondents said that, in the past year, they’ve phoned family and friends in their home country a few times a month, with another 40 percent saying they’ve done so at least once a month.