Myths and Facts about Immigration

Every time I write something about immigration on this blog or post something on our Office Facebook page, there is a very strong negative reaction from many people. I am convinced that those reactions are based on  lack of accurate information about immigration and immigrants. Sound public policy is based on accurate facts. Knowing the actual facts about immigration and immigrants would also lower the rhetorical temperature on this issue. Several myths in particular are frequently heard:

“Immigrants are more likely to go to jail.” 
False. 
In fact, both legal and illegal immigrants are less likely to be incarcerated than natives. According to a study of US Census data, Illegal immigrants are 44 percent less likely to be incarcerated than natives. Legal immigrants are 69 percent less likely to be incarcerated than natives. The percentage of incarcerated legal and illegal immigrants is lower than their share of the general population – and the percentage of natives is higher.

“Immigrants don’t assimilate to American culture and political values.”
False. 
There’s a reason immigrants come to America — they want to be Americans. Studies show that naturalized immigrants and natives have mostly similar political, ideological, and policy opinions and political affiliations. They are generally less liberal or moderate and more conservative than non-naturalized immigrants. Studies show no significant differences between naturalized and U.S.-born citizens on almost any major policy area — except immigration. This is an accusation often made against Muslim Americans – but a Pew Center study shows that 92% of U.S. Muslims say they are proud to be American, one point higher than native born Americans. Statistics also show that two-thirds of eligible immigrants have  already become naturalized citizens — a long process that requires passing a challenging test of their knowledge about America and our political system.

“Immigrants don’t bother to learn English.”
False.
According to one study of immigrants who arrived between 1995 and 2000, by 2015, 71% spoke English “well,” “very well,” or only spoke English and the proportion who “do not speak English” fell from 17% to just 9%.

“Immigrants are poorly educated.”
False. 
An analysis of US Census data showed that immigrants are in fact better educated than native-born Americans:
Less than Bachelor’s Degree — 68% Native, 51% Immigrant
Bachelors and above — 32% Native, 49% Immigrant
Bachelors only — 21% Native, 28% Immigrant
Advanced only — 11% Native, 21% Immigrant.

“Immigrants are a drain on the economy and cost Americans jobs.”
False.
Studies show that immigration is a net benefit to the American economy. The unemployment rate of immigrants is lower than for natives. There is little evidence that immigration significantly affects the overall employment levels or wages of native-born workers. Demand for goods and services by immigrants reduces prices in general, particularly in some areas like rental housing and real estate. The increase in labor supply has helped the US avoid the problems of an aging workforce and lower birthrates. The contribution of immigrants with high skills and education have been particularly important in the high-tech economy. As for public spending, it is true that first-generation immigrants (i.e., those born abroad) are more costly to state and local governments, mainly due to education costs. But the second generation (i.e., the children of immigrants) are among the strongest contributors to the US economy and government fiscal balance sheets — paying $92,000 more in taxes than they receive in benefits — and subsequent generations are indistinguishable from other natives.

As Catholics, one of our contributions to a reasoned and not impassioned discussion of immigration is to rely on accurate facts, and also to apply to the issues some larger, more universal principles that are rooted in our faith. In their document Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, the Bishops of the United States touched on this:

What faith teaches about the dignity of the human person, about the sacredness of every human life, and about humanity’s strengths and weaknesses helps us see more clearly the same truths that also come to us through the gift of human reason. At the center of these truths is respect for the dignity of every person. This is the core of Catholic moral and social teaching. Because we are people of both faith and reason, it is appropriate and necessary for us to bring this essential truth about human life and dignity to the public square. We are called to practice Christ’s commandment to “love one another” (Jn 13:34). We are also called to promote the well-being of all, to share our blessings with those most in need, to defend marriage, and to protect the lives and dignity of all, especially the weak, the vulnerable, the voiceless.

Whatever else one thinks about immigration, it is clear that they are our brothers and sisters whom we are commanded to love, and whose well-being we are bound to protect and promote.

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