In recent years, Mexican immigrants have moved deep into the South and Midwest, places that aren't accustomed to large Latino populations.
"What I have found is both ugly and sad," said Sergio Bendixen, founder of Bendixen & Associates in Miami. "There are millions of Latin American immigrants, especially those living in the deep South and the upper Midwest, whose lives have been made miserable by the anti-immigrant sentiment that is now so prevalent in so many geographic areas."
Bendixen has been conducting the survey since 2001 for the Inter-American Development Bank, which makes loans to Latin American nations. He said the numbers showing Hispanics are targets of discrimination have never been so clear.
More than one-third of Central Americans and 30 percent of Mexicans said their biggest problem in the United States was discrimination, compared with single-digit responses for similar questions in 2004.
Eighty-two percent of Mexicans and 84 percent of Central Americans said they found it more difficult to obtain good-paying jobs than a year ago. Forty-five percent blamed the increased difficulty on problems with documentation and 21 percent blamed a lack of jobs.
The poll was conducted in June, at the height of the Senate debate on overhauling immigration laws. A proposal to provide an avenue for many illegal immigrants to legalize their status failed amid a backlash, mostly from conservatives demanding a crackdown on illegal immigration.
Researchers interviewed 900 immigrants from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Slightly more than half of those polled said they were illegal. The margin of error is 3 percentage points.
More than half of those polled had been in the United States for more than 10 years, and two of every 10 made less than $20,000 a year.
The IDB/Bendixen report estimated Mexicans will send $23.4 billion back to their families this year, a 1 percent increase from last year. In the first half of this year, remittance growth was 0.6 percent, compared with a 23 percent jump in the first half of last year. Central Americans are expected to send nearly $10 billion in remittances this year, an 8 percent jump from the year before.