Illegal immigration has been in the news quite a lot lately, thanks primarily to President Donald Trump and his push to wall off the southern border with Mexico. But while many express concern about immigrants coming in from an economic, a security, or even a cultural standpoint, there are several myths out there about those coming in.
The major problem with all of this, aside from the xenophobic and racist undertones, is that almost everybody who opposes immigration is dead wrong on pretty much every statistic or fact they like to cite. Whether it’s that immigrants are all criminals and rapists, they take our jobs, or that they are a drain on the American economy, the understanding most Americans have of the actual issue is based on fallacies.
Here are seven myths you may believe about immigration, both legal and illegal, and the truth behind them.
Immigrants are criminals and rapists
Then-candidate Trump made headlines, and millions of enemies, when he made the now infamous statement implying that pretty much every Mexican coming into the United States is either a criminal, a drug dealer, or a rapist. He has stood by this statement and, using the broadest definition of the term “criminal” to include someone who broke immigration laws, it could even be argued to be true. However, when calling a person or a group of people criminals, the implication is pretty strong that they are committing violent crimes such as murder, rape, assault, etc. With the immigrant population, that simply isn’t true.
In fact, crime rates among the illegal immigrant population are much lower than in the general population. Incarceration rates for immigrants is less than half of what it is for native-born Americans, 297 per 100,000 versus 813 per 100,000. Some of this can be accounted for by a lack of reporting in immigrant communities — their legal status in the country tends to foster a distrust of authorities, after all. However, based on the numbers over time, the best way to lower the overall crime and incarceration rates in the United States would be to let even more immigrants in to offset all of the Americans committing crimes.
In other words, immigrants come to the United States to find work. They aren’t lurking in the bushes waiting for the first opportunity to commit crimes, they simply wish to provide for themselves and their families in the same way that pretty much everybody else does. But of course, when they do find work, they take jobs away from Americans, right?
Immigrants take jobs from Americans
Whenever a Mexican (let’s be real, the conversation about immigration is primarily about Mexicans) crosses the Rio Grande and gets a job at a restaurant or picking fruit in the fields or even starts a roofing business, they must be taking that job from an American who needs it, right? Well, no, because that’s not how economies work.
This claim starts out with the farcical notion that economies only have a finite number of jobs to go around and once they are all taken nobody else can have one. As it turns out, there are plenty of jobs to be done, and plenty of people to fill them. To begin with, whenever an immigrant comes into the country they actually bring their own wants, needs, and desires with them. That means that they need a place to live, food to eat, clothes to wear, and so on. All of these goods and services require somebody to make and provide them, and the immigrant purchases them. An increase in demand causes an increase in supply which, in turn, creates a higher demand for labor.
Immigrants also tend to take jobs in greater numbers that Americans aren’t willing to do for the same wage. Whether it’s working in a kitchen, housekeeping, or certain types of manual or unskilled labor, there is rarely a shortage of immigrants willing to do it for a lower price. Part of this is that they will be getting far more pay for it in the United States than they would back home, even if it’s below the minimum wage.
Speaking of the minimum wage, it actually increases the demand for immigrant labor as well. Once wage controls are imposed by the government, they disrupt natural market forces and require people to get paid disproportionately higher than the actual value they add to the company. Once this happens, it becomes much more likely that an employer will risk breaking labor and immigration laws in order to hire somebody who will work for less. The higher the minimum wage, the more economical the risk seems in comparison.
The final factor is that immigrants are much more likely to start their own business than a native-born American is. Twice as likely, in fact. That means that they are identifying a market need, filling that need, and doing so in a way that Americans are unwilling to. This is the very pinnacle of job creation, and nobody’s job is taken away by this type of activity. In fact, some of these businesses may open entirely new markets and create jobs from scratch that may not have existed otherwise. Other businesses may provide competition for existing companies, American or otherwise, and create a much better market for consumers and the economy as a whole. But of course, we know that no matter how much they work, they don’t pay any taxes…
Immigrants don’t pay taxes
If someone doesn’t have a legal job, it stands to reason that they must not pay taxes, right? They don’t have social security numbers, or are using a false one, or are simply paid under the table, so how could they?
The first problem with this argument is that it assumes a disproportionately high percentage of taxes come from income. In reality, only about 20 percent of state and local tax revenue comes from income taxes. The bulk actually comes from sales and property taxes, accounting for nearly 70 percent combined. Those are taxes that are unavoidable, regardless of legal status. Every time someone purchases something that is subject to taxation, they pay that tax. There is no legal residency requirement to buy goods and services. The same can be said for property taxes. If an immigrant rents a home the property taxes are factored into the rental rates. If the immigrant owns property, they must pay property taxes there in the same way a legal resident must.
In addition to all of that, the vast majority of immigrants actually pay income tax anyway, some estimates putting the amount they pay as high as $140 billion total annually, and some $12 billion locally, simply by working for companies that withhold taxes from paychecks. Additionally, if an immigrant uses a false social security number, the money is withheld and sent to Uncle Sam. Arguably, it could be said that the immigrants are actually the victims here, as they are forced to pay into a system from which they are not allowed to receive any benefits. But that’s surely offset by the other benefits, such as welfare and income assistance, that they receive, right?
Immigrants are a drain on welfare programs
We can safely assume that because immigrants are generally in a lower-income bracket that they must overall receive much more in government assistance for welfare programs and the like. Of course, this is also a myth as well, but you probably already guessed that.
In fact, according to a 2013 study by the Cato Institute, immigrants are 37 percent less likely to enroll in and use programs such as SNAP, CHIP, or Medicaid. Additionally, it’s estimated that for every $30 billion immigrants pay into such programs only $5 billion is taken out for use in immigrant households. In other words, these programs actually begin losing a substantial portion of their viability if immigrants are removed from the equation.
Not only that, but the workforce participation is consistently higher among immigrants than among native-born Americans, 66 percent versus 62.3 percent. That means that they are more likely to have jobs than Americans. Additionally, laws in many areas prohibit illegal immigrants from being eligible to receive certain benefits, precluding their ability to even sign up for the programs in the first place. Still, even if this is true, immigrants refuse to assimilate by learning the language and adopting the culture of the United States, so they are still a burden on society…
Immigrants don’t learn English and refuse to assimilate
Immigrants who come here fail to learn English. They shun American culture and hold onto their own traditions and language at the expense of society. Certainly this one must be true, after all, we have to press 1 for English when calling tech support.
Let’s start with the obvious one: they refuse to learn English. The reality is that 75 percent of immigrants are fully fluent within three years of coming into the United States, with most of the remainder being capable of at least rudimentary communication in English. Additionally, people who don’t speak English don’t cause any undue burden to native speakers, unless you consider having to push an extra number while on a phone call unbearable.
The United States has never had an official language, and this is by design. From the beginning, immigration has always been encouraged as even the people living hundreds of years ago recognized that a constantly growing and diverse population was more advantageous to one that is insular and stagnant for a myriad of sociological and economic reasons that are far too long to get into here. Some states have been printing official documents in both English and Spanish since the mid 1800s, and it has caused no more harm other than to make life more convenient for those who read Spanish more easily than English.
A lack of cultural assimilation also chagrins many nativist Americans. This also misunderstands the history of the United States to such a degree as to be laughable. With the desire for a more diverse population and a more diverse workforce came the understanding that many cultures would thrive here. At first, different people moved to different colonies or settlements in order to be with people more like them — it’s the primary reason we had different colonies and states in the first place. Over time the population grew, as did the population centers. Within these different communities set up neighborhoods within them, and enforced segregation of populations, most notably black, became the law of the land over time.
What does all of this have to do with immigrants refusing to assimilate? Simple: for the most part they follow the same tradition. Many live in areas that are primarily populated by others who share their culture and language, meaning that they don’t need to assimilate because they already fit into the communities. Others who do choose to live in areas that have other types of cultures (read: white protestant neighborhoods) generally adapt to fit in there as well.
Realistically, the American culture is constantly evolving. If you don’t believe it, go watch a television show from the 1950s and see how different things were seen back then. Heck, go watch an episode of a show from the 1990s and cringe at some of the jokes that are based on cultural mores of the time. People do not adapt to culture, culture adapts to people. Still, if too many immigrants move in, it will force a cultural shift, and with immigration at such a high rate it’s certainly to shift too quickly…
Immigration is at all time high levels
There is certainly a flood of people crossing the border every day nowadays. Certainly we can’t withstand the outlandishly high numbers of immigrants coming across our border, it’s practically an invasion by foreigners. Certainly this one must be true.
To be sure, 13.1 percent of people living in the country are now foreign-born, and that percentage is at its highest since the Great Depression. But that’s just it: the fact is we lived in a period of decreased immigration throughout much of the middle of the 20th century, for a variety of reasons.
First, the Great Depression obviously hampered any real desire to come to the United States, as there was not enough work for Americans, let alone immigrants, during that period. World War II also dampened immigration, the Baby Boom followed and skewed the percentages, and a long period of economic and social unrest followed until the 1980s, coincidentally the same time the percentage started to rebound.
When we say rebound, we actually mean that it returned to a level that has been historically normal for the United States. In fact, the percentage of foreign-born population is lower than it was for any decade between the Civil War and the end of World War I. For every decade during that period, the lowest rate was 13.2 percent and the highest was 14.8 percent. To be sure, that period is marked by the Industrial Revolution, which necessitated a vast influx of laborers to build railroads, automobiles, textiles, etc.
Which leads us right back to the economics question of why people come to the United States. The fact is that we live in a greater period of technological innovation than even the Industrial Revolution, which requires workers in all fields, both skilled and unskilled. The fact that immigration is at such a high level compared to where it was during the middle of the 20th century is an indicator of the strength of our economy, not a sign of its imminent destruction.
To be sure, the raw number of people coming in is much higher nowadays than it was during the period prior to World War I, but that has more to do with the worldwide population explosion, including in the United States, than it does with anything else. However, with millions of people immigrating to the United States, certainly it must be easy for terrorists and other undesirables who want to harm Americans to slip in…
Open borders let the terrorists in
If Mexicans can easily sneak across the border without much resistance, certainly terrorists can do the same. After all, the most dangerous terrorists in the world are Islamic extremists, especially given that they killed thousands on September 11, 2001.
The reality is that Islamic extremism is not a major threat to Americans. Since 9/11 there have been 26 people killed in the United States by jihadists in seven attacks. Additionally, all but three of the attackers were natural-born citizens, another was a naturalized citizen, and the other two were legal residents. You’ll note the lack of a single illegal alien on that list.
For comparison, 48 people were killed in 19 attacks by Right Wing extremists over the same period of time, and every single one of those attackers was a natural-born citizen. It seems that, just like the crime statistics from above, Americans are a greater threat to Americans than any illegal immigrant could hope to be.
To be sure, the 9/11 attacks were horrific and included the loss of nearly 3,000 Americans, but even those attacks weren’t carried out by people crossing the borders illegally. In fact, every one of them had legal status in the United States, though three of their visas had expired at that point. Building a wall on either the northern or southern border would have done exactly nothing to prevent the 9/11 attacks, and will do nothing to prevent any other possible future attacks.
Immigration, legal or otherwise, may make for an easy scapegoat for uninformed voters and politicians wanting to gin up support by dividing people. Educating oneself on the issues at hand is the best way to combat this sort of demagoguery and racism. Unfortunately, appealing to emotion can be more effective than appealing to reason in many cases, as the election of Donald Trump and continued support for his objectively terrible border wall continue to show.
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