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Immigration Myths - Part 2
Myth 8: Immigrants Refuse to Learn English
Reality: The development of English proficiency among non-English speaking immigrants today mirrors that of Nineteenth and early Twentieth century immigration, when masses of Italian, German, and Eastern European immigrants came to America. While first generation, non-English speaking immigrants predictably have lower rates of English proficiency than native speakers, 91% of second generation immigrants are fluent or near fluent English speakers. By the third generation, 97% speak English fluently or near fluently.

SOURCE: Shirin Hakimzadeh and D'Vera Cohn, "English Usage Among Hispanics in the United States," Pew Hispanic Forum, Dec. 6, 2007).
Myth 9: Twelve Million Illegal Residents Can Be Deported En Masse
Reality: The following excerpts are from The Center for Capital Flow Analysis. The Center, inaugurated in 2004, is listed in 'Resources of Economists on the Internet of the American Economists Association.

  • To send 12 million people abroad by 747 would require about 30,000 flights. Assuming an average cost of $1,000 per air ticket (St. Louis to Mexico City), the cost of this air transport would be about $12 billion.
  • To deport 12 million people by Greyhound bus would be cheaper, but would still require 240,000 bus loads, assuming everyone comes from Mexico, which they don't.
  • If all deportees resisted and were sent to jail, this would require accommodations to hold more than five times the number of inmates currently housed in state and federal prisons, assuming that the prisons could also be outfitted to handle the influx of women and children. This would probably cost at least $12,000 per person per year to keep them in prison, or about $144 billion.
  • These 12 million deportees would have the right to counsel and a fair trail. This would require a vast number of public defenders, judges and court personnel.
  • Some illegal immigrants come from places that do not border on the U.S., like Brazil, Columbia, Argentina, Indonesia, and so forth. The cost of sending these people back home would be considerably more expensive.
  • The income of these 12 million deportees amounted to about 1.4% of total household income in the U.S. in 2006. Deporting 12 million people would thus be a reduction in the Gross Domestic Product, which would have a negative impact on almost everyone who works for a living in the private sector.
  • A ball park estimate of the cost of deporting illegal immigrants would be somewhere north of $200 billion dollars - in the first year.
Myth 10: Immigrant Bashing Helps Politicians Win Votes
Reality: In the 2008 Republican Presidential Primaries, in the states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida, the most anti-immigrant candidates performed below expectations, and those accused of supporting amnesty and in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants prevailed. The most vocal, anti-immigration politician, Tom Tancredo dropped out after attaining only 1% of the votes. In 22 national public opinion polls conducted in 2007, fifty to eighty-three percent of Americans supported some type of pathway to legalization for undocumented workers.

In almost every competitive race in the 2006 congressional elections that matched an anti-immigration candidate against one that supported comprehensive immigration reform, the anti-immigrant candidate lost.

(Excerpts above from Rosa Rosales, President of the League of Latin American Citizens. Wall Street Journal Opinion Page, February 5, 2007).

Our perspective: It should be noted, however, that some unions that tend to support Democratic Party candidates have not been fully supportive of immigrant issues. Likewise, the GOP has supporting and opposing factions. Republican Ronald Reagan granted amnesty for three million illegal immigrants. President George W. Bush and business-related organizations, such as the U. S. Chamber of Commerce and the Wall Street Journal see a connection between immigration and the ability of American businesses to prosper and stay competitive.

Some politicians, mostly but not exclusively Republicans, however, are becoming increasingly concerned about the effects of immigration on their local communities and culture.
Myth 11: Anti-Immigrant Groups Admire Legal Immigrants
Reality: The U. S. Department of Justice reported that hate crimes against Latinos were up 23% in 2007 nationwide, and that they doubled in California. The Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League have documented dozens of physical assaults on Latinos, most of whom are U.S. citizens, by people spouting anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Janet Murguia, President of the National Council of La Raza, has cited a connection with media personalities and their effect on negative public opinion regarding immigration. Still, most Americans who are concerned about our borders do not carry or harbor extremist views. But the surge of hate reported by the Department of Justice is being driven by a relatively small, vocal, and extreme segment of society.

As the immigration debate has moved from Congress to the states and then to the presidential primaries, the fury and intensity has risen. This debate seems to be moving away from substantive policy approaches to hate.
Myth 12: A Strong Fence Will Stop Illegal immigration.
Reality: The existing fence along the Mexico-U. S. Border has been ineffective, to say the least. A new, more formidable and controversial one is under construction. Whether it will truly stem Mexican illegal crossings remains to be seen.

The point may be moot, however: The Pew Hispanic Center and the Department of Homeland Security estimate that up to 45% of the 12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. are visa overstayers. Many of the overstayers are from Europe and Asia:

  • Europe: 400,000
  • Philippines: 280,000
  • India: 270,000
  • Korea: 250,000
  • China: 190,000
  • Vietnam: 160,000
Myth 13: Immigrants Commit More Crimes Than Natives
Reality: Recent research has shown that immigrant communities do not increase the crime rate and that immigrants commit fewer crimes than native born Americans.

While the undocumented immigrant population doubled from 1994 to 2005, violent crime dropped by 34% and property crimes decreased by 32%. Furthermore, Harvard sociologist Robert Sampson has found that first generation immigrants are 45% less likely to commit violent crimes than Americanized, third generation immigrants.

SOURCE: Immigration Policy Center, "Immigrants and Crime: Are They Connected," December, 2007, The New York Times, March 11, 2006, A15; Executive Office of the President: Council of Economic Advisors, "Immigration's Economic Impact," June 20, 2007)
Myth 14: Illegal Immigrants are "Criminals."
Reality: Some people hold that all illegal immigrants are "criminals" because they broke the laws about coming into our country. Is a young woman who dies crossing the desert in order to find a job and feed her family the moral equivalent of a drug dealer? Are employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers "criminals?"

Ken Schoolland, an associate professor of economics and political science at Hawaii Pacific University, offers this view: "In the 1930s there were hundreds of Jews who came to American shores aboard the SS St. Louis, forcibly rejected under the guise of immigration quotas, many of whom ultimately perished in Hitler's concentration camps. Countless potential immigrants watched in desperate disappointment. But suppose those passengers had defied immigration law and jumped ship in Miami harbor. Would anyone today call them criminals? I think not. Indeed, those who returned these Jews to their persecutors might be considered guilty of collaborating with villainy - albeit legal villainy."

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