LINCOLN, Neb. -- A majority of rural Nebraskans think that undocumented workers who have been working and paying taxes for at least five years should be allowed to apply for American citizenship, but don't think Latin American immigration has been good for rural Nebraska, according to the Nebraska Rural Poll.

The poll also found that more than two-thirds don't believe important information should be communicated to Spanish-speaking arrivals in their native tongue.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln researchers say the 11th annual Rural Poll's findings seem to reflect rural Nebraskans' recognition that parts of the state are undergoing significant change from Latin Americans' immigration -- and that rural Nebraskans are struggling with how to come to terms with that change.

In its sampling of Latino residents, the poll also reflects that rural Latinos often voice divergent ideas about immigration policies and impacts.

"For many of our rural communities, the question is not will they change, but in what direction will they change," said UNL sociologist Miguel Carranza, part of the research team that created and analyzed the poll. "Most communities have not looked at the question of 'How can we view immigrants as an asset?'"

Rural Poll surveys were mailed in March to about 6,200 randomly selected households in Nebraska's 84 rural counties and to almost 700 randomly selected rural households with Latino surnames. Results are based on 2,482 responses as well as 126 respondents who identified themselves as Spanish, Hispanic or Latino.

Results are summarized in a report titled "Perceptions of Latin American Immigration Among Rural Nebraskans."

Although any survey has limitations due to the extent of the numbers of those who responded, a 22 percent response rate for Latino respondents compared to the 40 percent overall response rate "means we should be especially cautious about ascribing the views in the report to the Latino population as a whole," said Rebecca Vogt, long-time project manager of the Rural Poll.

Sixty-four percent of respondents said they're aware of recent Latin American immigrants living in their communities. Latinos' recent immigration patterns are reflected in regional differences: 73 percent of respondents in northeast and south central Nebraska, where meatpacking and other industries have drawn thousands of immigrants, said they're aware of recent Latin American immigrants living in their communities, compared to only 45 percent of those in north central Nebraska.

Poll respondents expressed concern about what Latin American immigration means to their communities.

Only 14 percent of respondents said Latin American immigration had been good for rural Nebraska, with 56 percent disagreeing. Among Latino respondents, 70 percent felt immigration had been good for communities, and 14 percent disagreed.

Ninety-four percent of respondents agreed that immigrants should learn to speak English within a reasonable amount of time. Eighty-two percent of Latino respondents also held that view.

However, a significant split showed up on another language-related question: whether rural communities should communicate important information in Spanish as well as English. Only 20 percent of non-Latinos agreed with that statement, and 69 percent disagreed. Among Latino respondents, 76 percent felt important information should be communicated in both languages.

Carranza found the resistance to using Spanish troubling.
"Utilizing the mother tongue of the immigrant helps make a positive connection ... Language can be a bridge to becoming more integrated into a community," Carranza said. "To require people to sink or swim in terms of language will result in a few being successful, but many will sink."