The United States of America was founded by immigrants, and is still considered a nation of immigrants. Anyone who is not Native American essentially descended from immigrants who fled from Europe to escape political or religious oppression. “This world hath been the asylum for the persecuted lovers of civil and religious liberty from every part of Europe,” as Thomas Paine put it. Fast-forward to today, rally-goers at President Donald J. Trump’s North Carolina rally chanted “send her back” (referring to Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota), after Trump accused Omar along with Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna S. Pressley of hating the US.
This is just the latest barrage faced by immigrants in the US. At the border, men, women, and children are being held in concentration camps in inhumane conditions. The hatred and violence is fueled by misconceptions, if not complete falsehoods. Let’s debunk the top 9 myths about illegal immigration.
Myth #1: Immigrants are overrunning the country
Trump has been calling the number of immigrants a national security crisis. However, data from Pew Research show that the number of immigrants in the US today is no different than other times in history. Immigrants currently make up 13.6% of the population, which is still below the highest record in 1890 when immigrants took up 14.8% of the population. Of the 13.6%, 77% are legal immigrants, and only 23% are unauthorized immigrants. In fact, the number of unauthorized immigrants has declined—from 12.2 million in 2012 to 10.5 million in 2017. This is the lowest number of unauthorized immigrants since 2004. These data point to the fact that immigrants are still a minority in the US.
Myth #2: Immigrants are “bad apples”
One of the main rhetoric against immigration is that immigrants are criminals or tend to resort to a life of crime. Studies about the attitudes toward immigration show that many Americans are afraid that they will be victims of crimes committed by immigrants. However, numerous studies have shown that immigrants, regardless of their status, educational attainment, or where they are from, are less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans. Between 2005 and 2010, more native-born Americans were incarcerated (16% increase) than foreign-born people (7% increase).
In terms of education, on the other hand, the difference between US-born and foreign-born people are not that far. Although immigrants are more likely to not have a high school diploma, they are just as likely to have a bachelor’s degree or more than US-born people. For instance, 53% of South and East Asian immigrants have a bachelor’s degree or higher.
What is crucial to remember here is that immigrants are people, and race is not an indicator for tendency to commit crime.
Myth #3: Terrorists are posing as immigrants
Another falsehood from the president is that terrorists are coming into the US through the US-Mexico border. This was discredited by the State Department in its report in September 2018. It said: “no credible evidence indicating that international terrorist groups have established bases in Mexico, worked with Mexican drug cartels or sent operatives via Mexico into the United States.” It also suggested that while the southern border is vulnerable to terrorist transit, terrorist groups are more likely to seek other venues to enter the US. By far, the most portal of entry among persons of concern is by air.
A further counterpoint to this myth is also found in the State Department’s report. According to the department, the northern border is more vulnerable to terrorist transit as Canada has been home to “violent extremists inspired by terrorist groups such as ISIS and Al Qaida and their affiliates and adherents.”
Myth #4: Immigrants are taking our jobs
This myth is riddled with so many falsehoods that can easily be corrected by simple fact-checking. We’ll do away with the defense that immigrants take on jobs that native-born people don’t like—so-called dirty jobs. And while this is in part true, it should also be noted that immigrants actually have more significant contribution to the US economy than taking on “dirty jobs.” Immigrants account for 11% of all economic output in the US. Jobs taken on by immigrants help expand the productivity of the US economy by boosting the economy. Some of these jobs have allowed native-born citizens more freedom to work and start a family.
Aside from working, immigrants are also twice as likely to start a business as native-born citizens. A large percentage of entrepreneurs in California are Hispanics who are low-skilled, high school dropout immigrants. Similarly, in New York, 36% of businesses are owned by immigrants. These businesses further add to the jobs available for everyone.
Immigrants are resourceful ingénues, who have, and can, bring about endless economic potential for the US or any country they settle in.
Myth #5: All undocumented immigrants sneak through the Mexican border
Trump has always focused on building a wall on the southern border, thinking that the outpour of immigrants is coming from the South, when in fact, it is the opposite. 2018 saw a spike in the number of illegal immigrants going through the northern border. There was a 91% increase just last year. The northern border is fast becoming the target of smugglers, whereas immigrants in the southern border are those seeking asylum in the US. However, the most number of unauthorized immigrants are actually people who have overstayed their temporary visas.
Myth #6: Immigrants don’t pay taxes and live off welfare and benefits
Immigrants, in total, pay about $90 to $140 billion in taxes each year. Unauthorized immigrants pay approximately $11.64 billion in taxes every year. A study showed the unauthorized immigrants pay about 8% of their income in state and local taxes. Like everyone else in the US, immigrants also pay taxes on goods, property taxes, payment for homes or rent. Finally, it was found that more than half of unauthorized immigrant households file their income tax returns.
In contrast with the amount paid by immigrants on taxes, they are actually not eligible to receive most benefits. Aside from public basic education, emergency room services, WIC assistance, police assistance, and assistance from the fire department, unauthorized immigrants can’t receive all other welfare assistance and benefits.
Myth #7: Illegal immigration will be solved by a wall
Aside from the impracticality of building a wall along the border with Mexico, walls have never been effective at deterring immigrants. If anything, it will only make smuggling more prevalent and migration more dangerous. There are many ways to breach physical barriers. There is a river that could be crossed; smugglers could dig tunnels, and so on. All these would only lead to more crimes.
The only effective way to reduce illegal immigration is to prevent wars and other oppressive situations from persisting in other countries. Likewise, a less restrictive immigration policy would definitely improve the situation.
Myth #8: Immigrants don’t want to learn to speak English
Perhaps many native-born citizens often hear immigrants speaking their mother tongue in public with a fellow immigrant, and that is why this myth exists. However, this is quite untrue. 52% of immigrants are proficient English speakers. About 45% of immigrants living in the US for less than 5 years are proficient. But, among those who have lived in the US for more than 20 years, 56% are more proficient. Perhaps it is worth noting too that applications for permanent residency visas require a certain level of proficiency in English. So, even if immigrants do speak their native languages, it does not mean that they are not proficient in English, or that they will not be proficient in English.
Myth #9: Migrants don’t return to their own countries once the situation improves
Numbers concerning the number of migrants who return to their countries of origin once the situation improves is rarely reported. No wonder this is one of the most common myths about immigration. In 2016, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reported 450,954 removals and returns. Other countries also have relatively high outflows: Germany (1,085,400), Korea (325,000), Spain (241,800), and Japan (233,500). Migrants who volunteer to return to their own countries may do it independently or with assistance from the host country or organizations. Migrants in vulnerable situations often seek assistance from their host country so they can return to their country of origin safely.
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