Fresh Ideas: Let’s not spread immigration myths
“You’re entitled to your own opinions. You’re not entitled to your own facts” — Daniel Patrick MoynihanThroughout America’s history, immigrants have strengthened our economy through hard work, innovation and entrepreneurship. However, most would agree that the current immigration system is broken. Guy W. Farmer’s recent commentary, “Illegal-immigration reform would reward lawbreakers” (Feb. 10, 2013), nonetheless, perpetuated several myths that can’t be left unchallenged.Myth No. 1: Border security is lax. In truth, it’s never been stronger. The flow of workers across the border is lower than it’s been in 40 years. Net migration has dropped to zero. In fact, with tightened borders, about 10 percent of immigrants choose to overstay their temporary (non-immigrant) visas rather than risk being unable to return. The Byzantine bureaucracy and years-long backlog make it difficult to change or renew status.Myth No. 2: More immigrants means more crime. Between 1990 and 2009, the number of immigrants in the U.S. roughly doubled; the number of undocumented immigrants tripled. Meanwhile, the rates of violent and property crimes declined by 40 percent. Believe it or not, crime rates are lowest in states with the highest immigration growth rates. Numerous studies find that young native-born men are five times more likely to be incarcerated than their immigrant counterparts. This administration continues to deport troublemakers at historic rates. It has chosen to focus resources on immigrants who commit violent and property crimes rather than those who are hard-working and otherwise law-abiding.Myth No. 3: Immigrants cost more in benefits than they pay in taxes. In fact, immigrants pay income, property (indirectly, if they rent) and sales taxes totaling $90 billion to $140 billion a year. Yes, even undocumented workers pay taxes; however, when those taxes aren’t matched to names or Social Security numbers, they are put into the SSA’s “Earnings Suspense File.” Undocumented workers actually subsidized the Social Security system to the tune of $836 billion in 2009.Furthermore, immigrants pay more in taxes than they receive in government services. You see, undocumented immigrants are not eligible for any federal public benefits such as Social Security, SSI, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Medicaid, Medicare or food stamps. Most legal immigrants can’t receive benefits until they have been in the U.S. at least five years, regardless of how much they have worked or paid in taxes.Arizona found that every year immigrants generate $2.4 billion in tax revenue while costing the state only $1.4 billion in education, health care and law enforcement expenditures. U.S. citizens are more likely to receive public benefits than non-citizens.The issue is complex, but for goodness sake, let’s at least start the conversation with the facts. Immigrants are here. They want to be here. They already contribute more than they receive. Most ask only for the opportunity to work and provide for their families. Nothing more. They deserve nothing less.• Lorie Schaefer is retired, mostly. She suggests the following website for further information: http://www.uschamber.com/reports/immigration-myths-and-facts.