A popular and entertaining show on the Discovery Channel is Mythbusters. This author hopes this post will help dispel some of the incorrect and downright cruel myths about immigrants that are cited by xenophobes and radical conservatives to frame the debate in an unfair and blatantly bigoted manner. According to Bill Bryson’s excellent book titled Made in America: An Informal History, criticism of immigrants is hardly a new issue in this country:
“If one attitude can be said to characterize America’s regard for immigration over the past two-hundred years it is the belief that while immigration was a wise and prescient thing in the case of one’s parents or grandparents, it really ought to stop now. Succeeding generations of Americans have persuaded themselves that the country faced imminent social dislocation and eventual ruin, at the hands of grasping foreign hordes pouring into ports or across its borders.”
So, let’s start busting some myths.
MYTH 1: Immigrants refuse to learn English.
Guess what, the xenophobes and fear-mongers are flat-out wrong. The same criticism has been leveled against immigrants for many generations. Furthermore, why is this an issue for current immigrants when tourists find it charming that German is still spoken throughout Pennsylvania Dutch country and similar Amish areas? It is an issue today because radical conservatives and their pundits make it an issue in order to stoke fear and hatred toward others who may be different.
According to a 2003 report from the American Immigrant Lawyers Association, 75 percent of all immigrants speak English well within ten years of arrival.
A big increase in the use of English as one’s primary language occurs with the children of immigrants. This would make sense, since they were born and raised on American soil. According to the Council of Economic Advisors, only seven percent of second-generation Latino immigrants use Spanish as their dominant language.
MYTH 2: Immigrants refuse to become United States citizens.
According to a 2007 story in the Washington Post, more than half of all foreign born immigrants now living in the USA are now naturalized citizens, an increase of 15 percent since 1990. The numbers would be greater, but according to the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), rising fees associated with naturalization appear to be a deterrent that prevents lower-income immigrants from becoming citizens. In addition you must be a resident for five years before you are eligible, three years if married to a U.S. citizen.
MYTH 3: Immigrants take American jobs and cause more unemployment.
Two separate studies have found the opposite to be true. One from the Fiscal Policy Institute, whose report comes to the following conclusion,
“There is no doubt that immigration and economic growth go hand in hand.”
The other from Harvard University Professor Michael Porter. In fact, Dr. Porter’s report indicates,
“There is direct correlation between immigrant populations and job growth in inner cities.”
MYTH 4: Immigrants cause wages to fall.
Misplaced blame and incorrect claims here. First, try blaming the businesses that exploit undocumented workers to keep their labor costs down instead of blaming those trying to make a living.
Second, according to a 2006 report from the Council of Economic Advisors, immigration has boosted the average wage of native-born Americans by 0.7-1.8 percent since 1990, by enhancing the value of American labor through complementary skills, talents, experience, and culture.
MYTH 5: Immigrants are a drag on the economy.
According to a 2009 report from the Fiscal Policy Institute, immigrants account for 12.5 percent of the population, but 14 percent of the nation’s economic output. Needless to say, that is hardly a drag on the economy.
MYTH 6: Immigrants come here to get welfare.
With the exception of emergency medical care, undocumented persons are not eligible for public welfare benefits in the United States. Too bad the pundits do not mention this.
MYTH 7: Immigrants do not pay taxes.
Between 1996 and 2003, the IRS determined that undocumented workers paid approximately $50 billion in federal taxes. Add in the taxes paid by legal immigrants and naturalized citizens and the contribution is much, much more.
MYTH 8: Immigrants cause crime.
According to a 2005 report by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, incarceration rates of immigrants are one-fifth that of native-born Americans. Yes, you read that right, 1/5. Claims by pundits and radical conservatives to the contrary are blowing smoke, stoking fear, or just plain lying (now there’s a surprise).
So, what do these findings say about the myths and the perpetrators of the myths? They’re all busted!
It would be nice to hear the true facts expressed more often in the mainstream media, let alone from pundits. Hoping the pundits change their tune is wishful thinking though, because it is easy to pick on those without power or a voice. And we wonder why there is a bullying problem in this country.