Courtesy of the American Immigration Lawyers Association
The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) addresses some of the common myths about immigrants and US immigration through their Mythbusters! series. Below is a sampling of some of these myths, and AILA’s responses to them:
- Immigrants Are More Likely to Commit Crimes!
- Immigrants Who Come without Documents Are Jumping the Line!
- We Can Easily Change the Constitution and Eliminate Birthright Citizenship
- Denying birthright citizenship to the children of immigrants would decrease illegal immigration.
- Immigrants Hurt the Economy Because They Don’t Pay Taxes!
- The Government Gives Social Security Benefits to “Illegal” Aliens Who Have Never Contributed to the System
MYTH: Immigrants Are More Likely to Commit Crimes!
FACT: Crime rates are lowest in states with the highest immigration growth rates. From 1999 to 2006, the total crime rate declined 13.6 percent in the 19 highest-immigration states, compared to a 7.1 percent decline in the other 32 states. In 2006, the 10 “high influx” states-those with the most dramatic, recent increases in immigration-had the lowest rates of violent crime and total crime.
FACT: For every ethnic group, without exception, incarceration rates among young men are lowest for immigrants, even those who are the least educated. This holds true especially for the Mexicans, Salvadorans, and Guatemalans who make up the bulk of the undocumented population.
MYTH: Immigrants Who Come without Documents Are Jumping the Line!
FACT: There is no “line” for the vast majority of undocumented immigrants. Accusations that immigrants in the U.S. illegally – numbering an estimated 12 million, and representing five to six percent of the U.S. workforce – should simply get in line miss the point: There is no line and the “regular channels” do not include them.
FACT: Approximately 500,000 undocumented immigrants enter the U.S. each year – most coming to work and typically to do so in the service sector – yet there are only 5,000 green cards for unskilled workers. Until there are more legal avenues for employers to hire immigrant workers, illegal immigration will fill the gap and we will not gain the control over immigration that the American people demand.
Myth: We Can Easily Change the Constitution and Eliminate Birthright Citizenship
FACT: Wrong. The Fourteenth Amendment is a fundamental piece of American history, law, and values. As Eric Ward of the Center for New Community writes, “For African Americans, the Fourteenth Amendment is a cornerstone for key civil rights laws such as the right to vote, equal access, and protection against job discrimination.”
Attempting to change this amendment and fundamental right is irresponsible. Immigration attorney Margaret Stock adds: Eliminating birthright citizenship would be un-American. Birthright citizenship has been the rule since the dawn of the Republic. We should have a compellingly good reason to eliminate it-one better than frustration with the federal government’s inability to enforce existing immigration laws.
Myth: Denying birthright citizenship to the children of immigrants would decrease illegal immigration.
FACT: Wrong again. Denying birthright citizenship to children of immigrants would actually increase the number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. because babies would be born without status. The myth that immigrants come to the U.S. illegally to give birth to “anchor babies” and obtain legal status is simply not true. Children born in the U.S. have to wait until they’re at least 21 to petition for their parents. Even then there are many legal obstacles to getting a green card for their parents. In reality, ending birthright citizenship would mean that thousands of children would be born every year in the United States with no citizenship in any country. Myth: Denying birthright citizenship to the children of immigrants would result in cost savings.
FACT: On the contrary, changing the simple rule that we have now (everyone born in the U.S. is automatically a citizen) would result in a significant burden on all Americans who would no longer have an easy and inexpensive way to prove their citizenship. The U.S. would have to create a national registry of citizens, and everyone born in the U.S. would have to have their citizenship adjudicated by a professional. Eliminating birthright citizenship would mean everyone would have to prove they are actually citizens - an even greater burden for minorities, the poor, and the uneducated. In other words, changing our citizenship laws would be incredibly costly for all Americans.
In sum, eliminating birthright citizenship would be unconstitutional, impractical, expensive, and complicated. Furthermore, it would constitute an assault on the letter and the spirit of the U.S. Constitution as well as on the civil rights of all Americans. Margaret Stock concludes:
The policy arguments in favor of retaining birthright citizenship are very strong. The policy arguments against it are weak. Even if we believe that it is possible to interpret the Fourteenth Amendment differently than we have been interpreting it for more than a hundred years, it is not clear why we would want to do so. Trading an easy and egalitarian birthright-citizenship rule for one that would cause hardship to millions of Americans is not a smart way to approach our complex immigration problems.
MYTH: Immigrants Hurt the Economy Because They Don’t Pay Taxes!
FACT: Contrary to popular belief, immigrants pay a substantial amount of taxes, from federal income and Social Security taxes to state income, sales, and property taxes.
FACT: The IRS estimates that undocumented immigrants alone paid $50 billion in taxes from 1996 to 2003.
FACT: The Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy estimates that in the year 2010, households headed by unauthorized immigrants paid $11.2 billion in state and local taxes. This included $1.2 billion in personal income taxes, $1.6 billion in property taxes and $8.4 billion in sales taxes.
FACT: A 2007 White House Council of Economic Advisers study reports that immigrants and their families contribute an average of $80,000 more than they use in benefits.
MYTH: The Government Gives Social Security Benefits to “Illegal” Aliens Who Have Never Contributed to the System
FACT: Contrary to what people think, undocumented workers are not (and have never been) eligible to claim social security benefits. Moreover, most undocumented workers will use a false social security number to prove work authorization, therefore paying money into a benefit system that they will never be eligible to use.
FACT: According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), undocumented immigrants “account for a major portion” of the billions of dollars paid into the Social Security system under names or social security numbers that don’t match SSA records. As of October 2005, the reported earnings on which these payments are based-which are tracked through the SSA’s Earnings Suspense File (ESF) – totaled $520 billion.