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Facts and myths about immigrants

By Staff | Dec 17, 2014

To the editor:

I found it difficult to read Kathy Jones’ letter to the editor regarding “Emperor Obama” and illegals. Anyone who understands our economy knows that Americans benefit from the undocumented workers, as explained in this US Chamber of Commerce statement on the Chamber’s website:

“Welcoming immigrants is good for our economy and our society. Immigrants do not typically compete with Americans for jobs, and, in fact, create more jobs through entrepreneurship, economic activity, and tax revenues. Immigrants serve as a complement to U.S.-born workers and can help fill labor shortages across the skill spectrum and in key sectors. Immigrants can also help replenish the workforce as baby boomers retire, growing our tax base and raising the worker-to-retiree ratio, which is essential to support programs for the elderly and the less fortunate.”

For those who want to do any fact-checking, I have included the following information found at this and other online sources:


The myths

Illegal immigrants don’t pay taxes

All immigrants pay taxes whether they are illegal or not. They pay them in the forms of: property tax (directly if they own a home, or indirectly if they rent); sales tax on all the goods they buy; and income tax at Federal, State and local level – if their employment is properly recorded and tax deductions administered by their employer.

However, since illegal immigrants do not have work permits and cannot legally be employed, they are often employed “off the books” in casual or seasonal work by less scrupulous employers who pay in cash and don’t deduct taxes.

Since illegal immigrants often have fake or stolen documents, including fake and stolen Social Security numbers, the money they pay into the system is money that will never be withdrawn. The amount in question is evidenced by the Social Security Administration’s “suspense file” (taxes that cannot be matched to workers’ names and Social Security numbers), which grew $20 billion between 1990 and 1998.[1][2]

Still, the true owners of the Social Security numbers are often targeted by the IRS for failure to pay taxes, resulting in real victimization of legal residents. [3]

Immigrants come here to get “welfare”

Immigrants come to work and to reunite with family members.

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%). Moreover, the ratio between immigrant use of public benefits and the amount of taxes they pay is consistently favorable to the U.S., unless the “study” was undertaken by an anti-immigrant group. One study estimates that immigrants earn nearly $240 billion a year. Studies find that immigrant tax payments total $20 to $85 billion more than the amount of government services they use.[4]

Since the welfare reform of 1996, when limits were implemented cutting off benefits to two years consecutively or five years cumulatively, this is a bogus accusation.

To immigrate into the US, you must have a sponsor (generally the family member, such as the spouse, bringing you into the country) who will testify that he or she has enough money to support you, if you are unable to support yourself, or if you lose your job. This agreement means that within the first 5 years of living in the US, you cannot take welfare. Your family member will be assessed a penalty if you demand it.

Immigrants send all their money back to their home countries

In addition to the consumer spending of immigrant households, immigrants and their businesses contribute $162 billion in tax revenue to U.S. federal, state, and local governments. While it is true that immigrants remit billions of dollars a year to their home countries, this is one of the most targeted and effective forms of direct foreign investment.[5]

Also, if you are going to complain that immigrants send money back to their home countries, you have to also raise a stink that very often, the rich offshore their money in foreign banks.

Immigrants take jobs and opportunity away from Americans

The largest wave of immigration to the U.S. since the early 1900s coincided with the lowest national unemployment rate and fastest economic growth. Immigrant entrepreneurs create jobs for U.S. and foreign workers, and foreign-born students allow many U.S. graduate programs to keep their doors open.

While there has been no comprehensive study done of immigrant-owned businesses, we have countless examples: in Silicon Valley, companies begun by Chinese and Indian immigrants generated more than $19.5 billion in sales and nearly 73,000 jobs in 2000.[6]

Illegal immigrants, as well as legal immigrants with little job skills or language skills often take the work seen by most Americans as “beneath them.”

Janitorial services, crop pickers and garbage collectors need workers, and they do not find them from high-school-educated, English-speaking citizens.

As a demonstration of this fact, in Georgia, a 2011 crackdown on illegal immigrants caused many to be deported and more to flee the state. This caused a shortage of labor on the state’s farms, indicating that illegal immigrants in that state do not compete very much with Americans for jobs.

Immigrants are a drain on the U.S. economy

During the 1990s, half of all new workers were foreign-born, filling gaps left by native-born workers in both the high- and low-skill ends of the spectrum.

Immigrants fill jobs in key sectors and create jobs by establishing their own businesses, with an estimated annual benefit of $10 billion to the U.S. economy. According to Alan Greenspan, 70% of immigrants arrive when they are of prime working age.

Due to welfare reform, legal immigrants are severely restricted from accessing public benefits, and illegal immigrants are even further precluded from anything other than emergency services. Anti-immigrant groups skew these figures by including programs used by U.S. citizen children of immigrants in their definition of immigrant welfare use, among other tactics.

Immigrants don’t want to learn English or become Americans

Within ten years of arrival, more than 75% of immigrants speak English well; moreover, demand for English classes at the adult level far exceeds supply.

Greater than 33% of immigrants are naturalized citizens; given increased immigration in the 1990s, this figure will rise as more legal permanent residents become eligible for naturalization in the coming years. The number of immigrants naturalizing spiked sharply after two events: enactment of immigration and welfare reform laws in 1996, and the terrorist attacks in 2001.

Today’s immigrants are different than those of 100 years ago.

NYT ad 1854 including “No Irish Need Apply”

In the sense that they are coming to America from different parts of the world that is true. However, the percentage of the U.S. population that is foreign-born now stands at 11.5%; in the early 20th century it was approximately 15%.

Similar to accusations about today’s immigrants, those of 100 years ago initially often settled in mono-ethnic neighborhoods, spoke their native languages, and built up newspapers and businesses that catered to their fellow migrs.

They also experienced the same types of discrimination that today’s immigrants face, and integrated within American culture at a similar rate. If we view history objectively, we remember that every new wave of immigrants has been met with suspicion and doubt and yet, ultimately, every past wave of immigrants has been vindicated and saluted.

Most immigrants cross the border illegally:

Around 75% have legal permanent (immigrant) visas; of the 25% that are here illegally, 40% overstayed temporary (nonimmigrant) visas.

Weak U.S. border enforcement has led to high levels of illegal immigration

From 1986 to 1998, the Border Patrol’s budget increased sixfold and the number of agents stationed on our southwest border doubled to 8,500. The Border Patrol also toughened its enforcement strategy, heavily fortifying typical urban entry points and pushing migrants into dangerous desert areas, in hopes of deterring crossings. Instead, the illegal immigrant population doubled in that period, to 8 million – despite the legalization of nearly 3 million immigrants after the enactment of the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986.

Insufficient legal avenues for immigrants to enter the U.S., compared with the number of jobs available to them, have created this current conundrum.

The war on terrorism can be won through immigration restrictions:

No security expert since September 11, 2001 has said that restrictive immigration measures would have prevented the terrorist attacks-instead, the key is good use of good intelligence.

Most of the 9/11 hijackers were here on legal tourist or student visas (but some did overstay on those). Since 9/11, the myriad of measures targeting immigrants in the name of national security have netted no terrorism prosecutions.

In fact, several of these measures could have the opposite effect and actually make us less safe, as targeted communities of immigrants are afraid to come forward with information.

Illegal immigrants are the source of many communicable diseases:

Anti-immigrant advocates including Lou Dobbs, have claimed that Mexican border-crossers are the source of a rampant increase in leprosy, CDC and Department for Health and Human Services statistics do not bear this myth out.

Illegal immigrants cause crime:

Whilst a common cry of the anti immigration brigade – and the font of endless anecdotal “evidence” – the facts don’t support this.

The government is not enforcing existing immigration laws

By September 2011, Barack Obama has exceeded the number of removals from the United States during the entire Bush Administration .

Simply put, it would be difficult, if not impossible, for the government to round up and deport every illegal immigrant. The agency responsible for doing so, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), has limited resources (finances, officers, jail spaces etc.) and must prioritize how they are spent (as well as figuring out how to spend resources on enforcing US Customs laws).

Simply put, a migrant farm laborer’s family probably is not as high on ICE’s priority list for deportation as a major drug trafficker might be. Furthermore, aliens involved in deportation proceedings are entitled to due process regardless of their status in the United States.

Problems that arise when blanket deportation is attempted

It’s fair to assume that industries that are largely dependent on the hard work of illegal immigrants would collapse, or at least suffer a major setback.

The cost of the program would be massive; law enforcement would need a huge amount of extra resources and manpower to put deportation into practice, and the courts (y’know, due process and all that) would also have a shortage of money and labor.

Many children of immigrants are natural-born US citizens. Hence, blanket deportation of illegal immigrants would necessarily entail expelling many US citizens as well, or at least making them orphans.

Janis Cain