Even in these heady times of a boom economy, Ventura County residents resent illegal immigrants, see them as a drain on public coffers and want to deny their children U.S. citizenship.
Nearly two of every three respondents to a new Los Angeles Times Poll say illegal immigrants are a serious problem in this county.
About half are so concerned about the impact of illegal immigrants that they would deny them health, housing and welfare benefits. And nearly half would ban their children from public schools.
All are restrictions consistent with Proposition 187, passed by California voters in 1994.
"Anti-immigrant feeling has not abated even though we are out of the recession," said Susan Pinkus, director of The Times Poll. "Statewide propositions attacking illegal immigration and affirmative action have kept it at a high level. And now we have the English-only initiative for schools that will probably be on the June ballot.
"These are gut issues," Pinkus added. "People do not want to reward illegal immigrants with government services, especially when they are taking away from people who deserve those benefits."
In conducting its survey, The Times Poll interviewed 1,286 adults in the county between Sept. 20 and 23. The margin of sample error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.
The poll--the most extensive so far of political attitudes here--found that Ventura County residents clearly distinguish between legal and illegal immigrants--and view legal immigrants more positively than do residents in the state overall.
But many local residents also think that immigrants, legal or not, take more from the economy than they give back.
And more than one in every four say they have seen anti-immigrant "white flight" up close, since they personally know someone who has moved to another neighborhood because immigrant families were moving in.
"I'm really upset about this, and I'm thinking about moving," said Tom Marlett, 31, a tow-truck driver who sees his east Ventura neighborhood as increasingly overrun with immigrants. "And I've got a friend who's probably moving in 30 days, because it's all over where he lives in El Rio. It's so dirty and filthy."
Nearly half of poll respondents, 49%, also oppose bilingual education in local public schools, while 47% favor it. And nearly half of respondents think efforts to educate students who speak little or no English have eroded the quality of instruction for English-speaking students.
"My son was in a bilingual class, and it was bad," said Deborah Thayer, 44, a graphic designer from Oxnard. "The teacher even told me at the end of the second grade, 'Don't ever let him be in a bilingual class again, because this class learned half of what the other second-grade class learned.' And I've had friends with the same experience."
Even ideas once dismissed as right-wing and radical have emerged as mainstream in the evolving 1990s debate over how to staunch the flow of illegal immigrants to this country.
Just six years ago, for example, Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley) was widely criticized for proposing a change in the federal Constitution so children of illegal immigrants would not be granted citizenship automatically if born here. But now half of Ventura County residents favor such a change in the 14th Amendment, while only 42% oppose it. Statewide, such a change was favored 54% to 40% in a 1993 Times Poll. Taken together, these findings indicate the level of anti-immigrant fervor has not changed, Pinkus said.
"I feel illegal immigration is a big problem," said Linda Ketelhut, 48, a payroll manager from Thousand Oaks. "I feel it's costing taxpayers a lot of money to support their medical bills. I don't like how we allow them to step across the border, have a baby and start collecting welfare. I just feel that's the reason they're coming over here."
Local Latinos also see illegal immigration as a reason for concern--58% saying it is a major or moderate problem.
But Latino and white residents split widely on whether illegal immigrants should be denied government assistance, public education and automatic citizenship for children born here.
Fifty-five percent of Latinos would grant illegal immigrant children a public education, while only 45% of whites would extend that right.
A strong 58% majority of Latinos would allow illegal immigrants to receive health and welfare services, compared with only 35% of their white counterparts.
And 64% of Latinos would oppose any change in the Constitution to deny children of illegal immigrants automatic citizenship if born here--a position supported by only 35% of whites.
"Illegal immigration is not really a problem," said Javier Morales, 24, a legal immigrant from Mexicali who has lived nearly all his life in Oxnard. "They're the ones, most of them at least, who come here to work and find a better life.