Immigration: Myth versus Reality
Author: Cindy Crowe, Newburgh, IN
In 2023, consensus of opinion in the US is a conspicuous aberration. Conceivably, the
singular point on which all Americans would agree is that we are a divided nation. Fake
news on controversial issues, aided by social media, has resulted in political polarization
that divides family and friends. One of the most controversial of these political issues
concerns immigration. Although nativist extremist groups will never be convinced that
immigration is a good thing, there are conservatives who might be willing to put aside the politically charged opinions of certain media outlets and listen to opinions rooted in fact and history.
One place to begin a discussion might be with the terminology "illegal alien." Most people do not realize that the correct terminology is "undocumented.” It is only when an
undocumented individual goes to court, pleads his case to no avail, and is told that he will be deported by Immigration and Customs Enforcement that he becomes an illegal
immigrant. I would like to believe that a bit of historical perspective might also be
persuasive. For example, would it be helpful to remind these conservatives that had the US not intervened with self-serving motivation in the affairs of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, the citizens of these countries might not need to escape to the US and Western Europe? Would it be fruitful to remind conservatives that Western Europe and the US exploited Mexico and the rest of Latin America as colonies while we experienced the industrial revolution and became “developed” nations with global trading partners? Would it be useful to ask them to consider the fact that the states of TX, NM, AZ, CA, NV, UT, and CO were originally Mexican territory that we stole and that perhaps we are the illegal aliens?
More than likely, explanations of terminology and snapshots of history would fall on deaf ears and would not convince members of the Right to reconsider their opposition to immigration. Thus, the best hope we have for changing minds is to know the facts that contradict the political and media myths and to present them when opportunities arise. These myths center on jobs, money, and crime.
The myth which focuses on jobs is the so-called displacement effect. This falsity asserts
that immigrants are taking the jobs of American-born workers and, by displacing these
native-born wage earners, are ruining our economy. In their 2017 Fact Check series, NPR
asked "Have Immigrants Lowered Wages For Blue-Collar American Workers?" Their findings revealed that, according to some economists, new immigrants depress wages for specific groups, such as teenagers and workers with a high school diploma or less. Other economists maintain that "the overall effect on the economy is tiny, and an influx of immigrant workers vitalizes the economy overall.“ Research from the National Foundation for American Policy published in 2018 demonstrated that states with more immigrants generally have lower rather than higher unemployment rates. Researchers at Northwestern, MIT, UPenn, and the US Census Bureau determined that immigrants are a benefit to the economy since they are more entrepreneurial than American-born workers. This research emanating from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and published in 2022 determined that "immigrants actually create more jobs than they take." Studies from senior fellows at the Brookings Institution showed that
undocumented workers often do the unpleasant, back-breaking jobs that native-born
workers refuse and that legal Immigration is actually needed due to the US aging
population and low fertility rates among native-born Americans. The researchers explained that immigrants are particularly needed in areas of low domestic migration. By detailing why immigrants are needed in the US, this study also serves to repudiate the Great Replacement Theory which declares that immigrants are being allowed into the US as part of a plot by the Left designed to undermine or “replace” the political power and culture of white people living in Western countries.
The second myth asserts that immigrants do not pay taxes yet receive welfare and free
healthcare. Wrong! According to a 2021 article in the Columbus Dispatch, which cites the
Congressional Budget Office, over 6 million undocumented Mexican immigrants pay taxes on money they earn but will never be entitled to Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid. This is possible because 25 years ago, the IRS created the Individual Tax Identification Number so that workers not eligible for Social Security numbers would, nevertheless, pay taxes. According to the federal government website managed and paid for by the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and found at healthcare.gov, only "lawfully present" immigrants are eligible for healthcare coverage. Thus, undocumented immigrants, although they pay taxes, are not eligible for Medicaid, or the Children's Health Insurance Program, or to purchase health insurance through the ACA Marketplaces. The law does not restrict access to public health programs that provide immunizations and/or treatment of communicable disease symptoms; Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children; and school breakfast/lunch programs. However, the National Immigration Law Center points out that enrollment in these programs requires filling out forms and waivers and that immigrants, including those with documentation, often do not take advantage of these services due to language barriers and fear of deportation. According to research published by the Bipartisan Policy Center in 2018, the IRS determined that "undocumented immigrants pay over $9 billion in withheld payroll taxes annually." And since undocumented immigrants pay into social security but cannot collect benefits upon retirement, these workers are also contributing to the solvency of the Social Security system. The Center’s report specifies that in 2010 undocumented workers
contributed $12 billion more than what the system paid out in benefits. This pattern is
confirmed by a 2014 CNN report in which Stephen Goss, the chief actuary of the SSA,
disclosed, "Without the estimated 3.1 million undocumented immigrants paying into the system, Social Security would have entered persistent shortfall of tax revenue to cover
payouts starting in 2009.”
Trump, in a 2015 speech delivered in Phoenix, Arizona, stated, "They’re taking our jobs.
They’re taking our manufacturing jobs. They’re taking our money. They’re killing us.” He
went on to specify that he was referring to undocumented Mexican immigrants committing violent crimes or smuggling drugs. The facts previously presented have shown that immigrants are not “taking our jobs” nor are they “taking our money.” So the final Trumped-up myth to disprove is the assertion that the immigrants are killing us. An article published by the Center for Immigration Studies is a good starting point for the argument to invalidate this claim. In 2009, the Center released a detailed report designed to assess the issue of immigration and crime. The report explained that gathering data is problematic but concluded "... there is no clear evidence that immigrants commit crimes at higher or lower rates than others.” Subsequently, in 2015, the American Immigration Council published an analysis of data collected in 2010 which revealed that 1.6 percent of male immigrants between the ages of 18 to 39 were incarcerated, as compared to 3.3 percent of native-born males. The report went on to say that this divergence in incarceration rates has been consistent according to decennial census reports since 1980.
Besides the untruths regarding violent crimes committed by immigrants, misinformation with regard to drug trafficking has also been disseminated as fact. An article released by the Center for Investigative Reporting in 2013 states that although Mexican-based crime organizations spearhead drug smuggling into the United States, what is not publicized is that three out of four drug smugglers crossing the border are US citizens. A more recent report published in 2019 by the Cato Institute discloses data from the U.S. Sentencing Commission revealing that 77% of drug traffickers are US citizens, not undocumented immigrants.
In conclusion, the data on crime rates and drug trafficking demonstrate that the assertion of a crime wave caused by undocumented immigrants is not accurate. The aforementioned facts have also demonstrated that immigrants are not displacing American workers but are actually creating jobs. Additionally, the facts indicate that undocumented workers are not taking our money, as Trump and the Right would have us believe; rather these workers are contributing billions to the economy, paying for programs from which they cannot benefit, and keeping Social Security solvent. So, what can we do to help our neighbors on the Right relinquish the false beliefs they hold regarding the topic of immigration? We can listen patiently, try to understand where they are coming from, acknowledge their concern, and empathetically present the facts that dispel that concern. Although it may seem like inconsequential progress, changing one mind at a time through intentional interaction is our best hope for turning pernicious polarization into purposeful preservation of our union.
Author Bio: Dr. Cindy Crowe is an Assistant Professor of Spanish at the University of Evansville. She has taught English at a business college in Mexico and worked as a Spanish and English language trainer for global businesses. Her passion is creating and instructing community-based classes through which her students present research and work with organizations to meet the needs of the local Latino community.
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