Respondents of a Dan Jones & Associates poll weighed in about the following question during a recent canvassing of opinions: "In your opinion, what are the downsides of a more diverse population in Utah (if any)?" Related: >> Poll results: Utahns welcome diversity but perceptions don't always match reality >> The changing face of Utah - Are we ready to embrace the future?. >> In our opinion: Series takes needed, critical look at issues posed by Utah's changing demographics

Top responses to 'downside' of a more diverse population

Top 8 responses to: What are the downsides of a more diverse population in Utah (if any)?

Crime ... 15%

Prejudice, bigotry, non-acceptance ... 13%

Language, communication issues ... 11%

No downsides ... 11%

Health care costs, social services ... 10%

Illegal immigration is a problem ... 7%

Employment, may take jobs ... 6%

Education - strain on system ... 6%

Illegal immigration

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.

The majority of both legal and illegal immigrants in Utah come from Latin America, most from Mexico. Immigration advocates say there are 110,000 undocumented people in Utah.

"There's no inundation happening at all," said University of Idaho researcher Priscilla Salant, who studies population trends in the Mountain West.

Crime, gang activity increases

The poll revealed concerns that a more diverse Utah could result in higher crime rates. Forty-four percent of people polled said a more diverse Utah would have a "somewhat negative" or "very negative" impact on criminal activity in the state.

Salt Lake Police Chief Chris Burbank said crime statistics tell a different story.

"The fact is that we have more minorities living in Salt Lake City than we have in the past and crime has fallen dramatically. So I don't see how there's a correlation there," Burbank said.

In 2011, Salt Lake City experienced a 26-year low in Part 1 Crime. Part 1 crimes include homicide, sexual assault, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny (and motor vehicle theft) and arson.

"So for more than my entire career, crime has never been lower. It's a nice downward trend," Burbank said.

Overall crime in Utah shows decreases in violent crime, property crimes and the number of arrests, according to the state Bureau of Criminal Identification's 2011 Crime in Utah report. This is consistent with national crime statistics that reflect a drop in violent crime for the past four years.

Drain on social resources, public programs

Another "downside" raised by poll respondents was the increased public assistance and public health programs. In this case, perception matches reality.

Illegal immigrants are not eligible for public assistance or public health programs, with a few exceptions such as emergency care, state officials said. Because many immigrant families are of mixed immigration status, children who were born in the United States and are citizens could qualify for some public programs.

Absent access to traditional care, many people without insurance seek assistance from safety net programs such as community health centers. Others end up in the emergency room, the costliest health care alternative.

"We serve a representative cross-section of the working poor who don't have health insurance and can't afford out-of-pocket health care. A large segment of the working poor happen to be undocumented," said Dexter Pearce, executive director of Community Health Care Centers Inc. Patients at the clinic pay for services on a sliding scale.

"We are not a free clinic," Pearce said.

Strain on education system

Another "downside" of diversity raised by people who responded to the poll was the increased costs to education.

For decades, students of color in Utah have lagged behind their white peers on standardized achievement tests and high school graduation rates. As schools become more diverse and more populated, addressing these issues takes on greater significance, education leaders said.

Some 59 percent of Utahns polled said they strongly favor or somewhat favor committing more resources in an effort to close the achievement gap in Utah.

Brenda Hales, associate state superintendent for instructional services, said the sentiment is encouraging because one of her greatest concerns is that resources won't keep pace with the needs of a larger and more diverse public school population.

"This is not a burden and expense. It's an investment in our future," Hales said.