Days before Barack Obama begins his presidency, a new survey has found that Latinos do not believe immigration should be the top priority for the new administration.
Rather, the economy was cited most often by Latinos as an "extremely important" issue for the Obama administration -- followed by education, healthcare, national security and the environment.
Thirty-one percent of Latinos rated immigration as extremely important, whereas 57% said the economy was.
"Latinos are no different from anybody else," said Mark Hugo Lopez, lead author of the Pew Hispanic Center study, released Thursday. "The economic downturn has impacted Latinos in many ways."
The housing market collapse and the decline in the construction industry in particular have left many Latinos out of work, Lopez said.
"It's not that immigration has fallen off the radar entirely," he said. "It's that other issues have become relatively more important."
The Pew researchers, who interviewed 1,540 Latinos nationwide in November, did not ask specifically about immigration policy or potential legislation. Past studies have shown that Latinos disapproved of the aggressive immigration policies of the Bush administration.
Still, 88% of Latinos did cite the immigration issue as important for the incoming administration. The issue had even more resonance for foreign-born Latinos: 99% said it was important, compared with 75% of U.S.-born Latinos.
Civil rights groups and immigrant rights groups want Obama to push a package that would provide a path to legalization for millions of illegal immigrants in the United States. Advocates say that economic recovery must come first but that immigration reform should also be addressed this year.
Paco Fabian, a spokesman for the advocacy group America's Voice, said it was understandable that the financial crisis was foremost in Latinos' minds. "We all suffer the same consequences from our struggling economy," he said.
But Fabian said he believed that immigration was still a defining issue for Latinos.
"Immigration is an issue that Latinos are living every day," he said. "There are a lot of mixed-status families that are being split apart. There are raids going on."
The survey also asked whether 2008 was the first year respondents had voted in the U.S.; 21% said yes. The survey also found that Latinos used the Internet to research candidates, tried to persuade someone to vote a certain way, attended political events and contributed money. And 44% said the election encouraged them to continue participating in politics.
Overall, Latinos are optimistic about the new presidency, with 72% predicting a successful first term for Obama. They are also more forgiving of the Bush administration than is the general population, with 54% saying Bush's failures will outweigh his successes, compared with 64% of the general population holding that view.