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Poll results: Utahns welcome diversity but perceptions don't always match reality

Published: Sunday, June 24 2012 10:00 p.m. MDT

Physician's assistant Dean Marturello explains how he is going to treat Alexis Cortes at the Central City Community Health Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, June 22, 2012. Alexis sits on the examination table as his sister, Jenny Cortes, his niece Alondra, 2, and his mother Maria Pineda watch.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Editor's note: This report is part 2 of "Coming to our Census," a series of reports that takes a careful look at the issues posed by the changing demographics of Utah and the nation.

Related coverage

Part 1: The changing face of Utah - Are we ready to embrace the future?
Part 3: Some solutions in place to close education gap, but is Utah willing to pay for them?
Part 4: Latino students face barriers to higher education
Part 5: Minorities face hurdles in getting health care
Part 6: Immigrants, refugees can choose which aspects of culture to assimilate

Editorial: 'Coming to our Census' series takes needed, critical look at issues posed by Utah's changing demographics

Lists: Poll responses: Benefits of a more diverse population in Utah; Poll results about Census data: Perceptions don't always match reality

KSL coverage: 'Coming to our Census'

Copyright 2012, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utahns like the idea of a more diverse state. They're just not sure what that will mean, and in some cases, they're drawing from incorrect perceptions.

About one-fifth of the 2.8 million people in the Beehive State are ethnic minorities, many of them young, working-age adults and children, according to the latest Census figures. If current trends continue, Utah will join the rest of the nation as a place where minorities become the majority in many cities and counties.

To help gauge attitudes about these changes, KSL and the Deseret News commissioned a public opinion poll of 411 Utahns. The poll results reflect a Utah that is generally receptive to the changing landscape.

Seventy-seven percent of Utahns polled by Dan Jones & Associates said they consider the state's increasing diversity as a good thing, with 38 percent describing the change as "a very good thing."

The Most Rev. John C. Wester, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, who moved to mostly white Utah from a diverse San Francisco in 2007, said he is "encouraged by the people who say, in general, that diversity is a good thing."

That's true in general but is especially welcome news to Catholics, he said.

"St. Paul's Church calls the body of Christ many members and one head. If you don't have all the members, your community is less able to reflect the presence of God," he said.

Two-thirds of Utahns polled said they grew up in environments that welcomed or encouraged racial diversity.

"I think there is more tolerance, more appreciation of the strength diversity gives us. I think we're moving in the right direction but I think at times, we're stumbling there," said Salt Lake immigration attorney Mark Alvarez.

The poll, conducted May 15-20, revealed a disconnect in some cases between Utahns' perceptions about illegal immigration and actual data.

For instance, the number of illegal immigrants living in the United States has fallen from its peak in 2007, and it has leveled off the past two years, according to U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Department of Homeland Security estimates.

Even so, the poll found that 74 percent of Utahns consider illegal immigration in Utah a serious problem.

Experts said immigration has slowed to a trickle in the past two years as the recession has worsened and the federal government has enhanced border patrols. Deportations of unauthorized Mexican immigrants across the nation have risen to record levels — 280,000 in 2010 alone, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

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