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MIAMI-Hispanics are increasingly concerned about U.S. immigration policy, an issue that promises to grow as the group's size and influence continue to increase, according to a study released this month.

Though U.S. officials put future Hispanic immigration at a steady 322,000 a year through 2050, executives at Strategy Research Corp., Miami, said the figure likely is higher than the government estimate. The number is certain to surpass Census estimates that put the 2050 Hispanic population at 87 million.

How many immigrants make it into the country from Latin America, and how quickly they assimilate into mainstream U.S. culture, will determine the future of the nation's Hispanic culture, SRC executives said. They estimate that, given current immigration patterns, the U.S. Hispanic population is likely to hit 106 million by 2050.

"The truth is immigration has been much more than [322,000 a year] in the past," SRC President Dick Tobin told attendees at the company's 1996 U.S. Hispanic Market conference here this month. "It doesn't add up. Therefore, I can't let my audience look at an 87 million figure and say, `OK, we can bank on that.'

"If the numbers are actually higher, it will change the face of acculturation. The only thing that keeps the Hispanic market growing is the rate of acculturation and immigration flow."

The issue is important as U.S. marketers and media decide how to target the market. As of Jan. 1, 1996, SRC estimates the U.S. Hispanic population will be 27.23 million, or 10.3% of the total U.S. population and with annual buying power of $228 billion.

The nation's Hispanic market is defined by its use of the Spanish language, either through conversation or the media it chooses, said Mr. Tobin. If, for example, immigration slowed, within three generations the Hispanic population could reach full acculturation, meaning Spanish-language media would have little impact in the market, he added.

In its telephone survey in July and August of 2,000 Hispanic and 1,000 non-Hispanic households in the top five Hispanic markets (Los Angeles, New York, Miami, San Francisco and Chicago), SRC researchers found that feelings toward immigration split along ethnic lines. While 25% of Hispanics said they would like to see immigration increase, 13.5% of the general market sample agreed. Conversely, 15.6% of Hispanics would like it to decrease, compared with 31.4% of the general market.

The margin of error for the Hispanic sample was 2%; the general market margin was 4%.

Among other findings:

Some 74% of all U.S. Hispanics live in California, Texas, New York and Florida. Three U.S. cities (Los Angeles: 6 million; New York: 3.3 million; and Miami: 1.4 million) are home to 39% of the Hispanic population, representing a highly concentrated target audience for marketers.

Brands can be built by successfully marketing to domestic Hispanics. Latin Americans exposed to U.S. brands tend to prefer those products, as opposed to products produced by local companies, the study showed. Similarly, most U.S. Hispanics born outside this country prefer U.S. brands to those found within their own country.

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