Myths about immigration
Immigration reform has been a heated issue for the past century, as lawmakers argue over the impact immigration has on American society and the best way to handle it. The myths about immigration that surround the topic have existed for nearly as long. Here are the top myths that seem to follow the discussion of immigration and prevent progress from being made toward positive change.

Myth 1: “Undocumented immigrants don’t pay taxes but still get benefits.”

It is estimated that in 2010, undocumented immigrants paid $10.6 billion in taxes. Like every American consumer, immigrants pay sales tax and property taxes on any apartment or home bought or rented. More than half pay federal, state, Social Security and Medicare taxes. Despite this, they are not actually eligible to receive any of these benefits. Even legal immigrants often find it difficult to obtain Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare and food stamps.

Myth 2: “Immigrants have a negative impact on the U.S. economy.”

Due to the 77 million Baby Boomers reaching retirement age, a smaller number of workers will have to support an increasing number of retirees. A growing immigrant population will help account for the decrease in the workforce. It is also estimated that undocumented immigrants contribute to economic growth by $36 billion a year.

Myth 3: “Most immigrants are undocumented.”

In reality, roughly two-thirds of immigrants live in the U.S. legally as naturalized citizens or permanent residents. Additionally, about 40 percent of the 10.8 million immigrants currently residing here illegally arrived in the country through legal channels but overstayed their visas.

Myth 4: “Immigrants don’t want to learn English.”

According to Forbes, roughly 40 percent of immigrants speak reasonable English when they enter the country. There is also a clear three-generation pattern, in which the first generation may speak limited English, the second generation is bilingual and the third generation speaks only English.

Myth 5: “It’s easy to enter the U.S. legally.”

Actually, many people trying to enter the U.S. legally have been waiting nearly 20 years to do so. Much of this is due to backlogs and annual limits on immigration that do not match the demand for entry. Often, access to the country is limited to those who are trained in skills that are in short supply, seeking political asylum or joining immediate family.

Myth 6: “Immigrants take jobs from Americans.”

Due to differences in education level, whether in the country they live or which occupations they work in, immigrants and native-born American workers often do not compete for the same jobs. In addition to this, immigrants contribute to job creation as both entrepreneurs and consumers.

Myth 7: “Undocumented immigrants bring crime.”

Randel K. Johnson, Senior Vice President of Labor, Immigration, and Employee Benefits for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently cited research that shows quite the opposite: “Between 1990 and 2010, the foreign-born share of the U.S. population grew from 7.9[percent] to 12.9[percent] and the number of unauthorized immigrants tripled from 3.5 million to 11.2 million. During the same period, FBI data indicates that the violent crime rate declined 45[percent] and the property crime rate fell 42[percent].”

America is a nation of immigrants. As clichéd as it is, it’s true. But this fact is often conveniently forgotten in the discussion of positive immigration reform, reform that has the potential to grow the economy and create jobs. Overall, reforming the system to allow for easier legal access to the U.S. has the potential for substantial positive impact across the country.

— Kristen Bezner

Sources: American Civil Liberties Union, American Immigration Council, Forbes, Teaching Tolerance, Upworthy, US Chamber of Commerce, Washington Post 1, Washington Post 2

Photo: AEI