Aug 24, 2019
by Christopher Kerosky, Kerosky, Purves & Bogue, LLP, Sonoma County Human Rights Commissioner
The debate about immigration in this country suffers from a preponderance of misinformation, much of which is disseminated by politicians and amplified by social media. I address 7 of the most common myths here:
Myth #1. Our borders are porous and immigrants virtually enter the U.S. at will.
• Over the last 10 years, there has been a net drop in undocumented immigration from Mexico; in other words, more Mexicans are returning to Mexico than those coming here.
• Since 2009, there has been a net loss of Mexican immigrants in the U.S.
• Of the 25% of immigrants in the U.S. illegally, 40% overstayed temporary (nonimmigrant) visas. Almost all of these are from countries other than Mexico.
Myth #2: We could deport all undocumented immigrants.
• It would be very expensive and virtually impossible, for the government to round up and deport every undocumented immigrant. According to the Wall Street Journal, it would require at least $400 billion in new federal spending and reduce U.S. GDP by about $1 trillion to fulfill Donald Trump’s promise to deport all undocumented immigrants.
• It's also a fact that industries that are largely dependent on the hard work of undocumented immigrants would collapse, or at least suffer a major setback, especially agriculture. Food prices would rise and we would suffer shortages. It’s simply not possible for U.S. citizens to fill all the jobs that undocumented immigrants now hold, as many studies have shown.
Myth #3: Undocumented immigrants are more responsible for crime than documented persons.
• Research has found that immigrants are much less likely to be incarcerated than persons born here.
• Roughly 1.6 % of immigrant males between ages 18 and 39 wind up in jails or prisons, less than one-half the rate for U.S.-born Americans the same age. (3.3 % for native-born American men of the same age).
• Among U.S.-born men without a high school diploma, about 11 percent are incarcerated. Among similarly educated Mexican, Guatemalan and Salvadoran men here, only 2 or 3 percent get incarcerated.
Myth #4: Immigrants receive a lot of public benefits and therefore are a huge drain on our society’s resources.
• Due to welfare reform passed in the 1990s, undocumented immigrants are severely restricted from accessing public benefits. They do not qualify for welfare, food stamps, Obama care or virtually any other form of government assistance.
• To immigrate into the US, it has been the case for many years that you must have a sponsor who will testify, and provide proof, that he or she has enough money to support you, if you are unable to support yourself, or if you lose your job. This means that even if somehow you do obtain benefits, the government can seek reimbursement of those amounts from your sponsor.
• Immigrant labor-force participation is consistently higher than native-born, and immigrant workers make up a larger share of the U.S. labor force (12.4%) than they do the U.S. population (11.5%).
Myth #5: Undocumented immigrants do not pay taxes.
• Immigrants pay a variety of taxes that studies have shown are disproportionately high for their numbers compared to U.S. born residents here.
• It is estimated that undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States collectively pay $11.64 billion in state and local taxes each year and another $12 billion to the federal government via income and payroll taxes.
• Undocumented immigrants’ nationwide average effective state and local tax rate (the share of income they pay in state and local taxes) is an estimated 8 percent. (The top 1 percent of taxpayers nationwide pay an average effective tax rate of just 5.4 percent.)
Myth #6: We have higher levels of immigration than ever before.
• Between 1860 and 1920, 14% of the population was foreign-born. The average for the 20th century is 10-plus percent. The proportion is not different today—about 13 percent.
• The total number of persons who immigrated to the U.S. in 2018 was just over one million. Just in sheer numbers, more people immigrated to the U.S. on average in the years 1905-1915.
• When considered in terms of percentage of the nation’s population, the current levels of immigration are a small fraction of the period when most of our ancestors immigrated.
• The total amount of immigration has been decreasing. It was actually higher per annum in the last decade and during the late 1980s.
Myth 7: Present-day immigrants are uneducated and do not assimilate to our society, unlike prior immigrants, and therefore they threaten our “American way of life”.
This is the heart of the nativist ethos: a vague and unsubstantiated suggestion that current immigrants are different from our ancestors (who all immigrated here). It’s based on a mix of misunderstandings and prejudices that need to be exposed as false and un-American. Here are some facts:
• Compared with immigrants who arrived before 2000, recent immigrant arrivals are more educated.
• Over 75% of immigrants who have arrived after 2010 have a high school diploma or bachelor’s degree.
• The percentage of immigrants without a high school. degree has dropped by a third since 2000.
• Within ten years of arrival, more than 75% of immigrants speak English reasonably well.
[Facts and statistics courtesy of the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Congressional Budget Office, Office of Immigration Statistics, the Pew Research Center, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, Center for American Progress, the Wall Street Journal, Forbes Magazine, and the Atlantic.]
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