Listed below are some common myths about immigrants and immigration to the United States.
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Myth #1: Immigrants are overrunning our country, and most are here illegally.
The percentage of immigrants in the overall population is about the same as it has been at many other times throughout U.S. history. Today immigrants comprise approximately 13% of the total U.S. population. From 1900-1930, immigrants comprised between 12% and 15% of the U.S. population, and similar spikes occurred in the 1850s and the 1880s.
Of the 41 million immigrants in the U.S. in 2013 (the most recent year for which there are statistics), close to 47% were naturalized citizens. Among the rest, many immigrants are here on temporary work and/or student visas, some are refugees and people seeking asylum because of dangerous conditions in their home countries.
Undocumented immigrants comprise about 3.5 % of the total U.S. population.
Myth #2: Immigrants bring crime and violence to our cities and towns.
Although immigrant population (including those who are undocumented) rose sharply between 1990 and 2010, the violent crime rate in the U.S. during that same time period plummeted by 45%, and the property crime rate dropped by 42%. Studies consistently show that crime rates are lowest in states with the highest immigration growth rates.
Myth #3: Immigrants hurt our country by taking jobs and services without paying taxes.
Immigrants actually help to create new jobs. In addition to buying American and local products, immigrants often start their own businesses. Immigrants are twice as likely to start businesses as citizens born in the U.S. and companies owned by immigrants are more likely to hire employees than companies owned by native-born citizens.
Immigrants collectively pay between $90 and $140 billion each year in taxes. Everyone living here pays sales taxes and property taxes (whether living in purchased or rental homes), and more than half of all undocumented immigrant households file income tax returns using Individual Tax Identification Numbers.
Myth #4: Immigrants get Welfare and other Benefits
Undocumented immigrants are not eligible for Federal public benefits such as welfare, Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, and food stamps. Victims of human trafficking can however get access to emergency medical care. Additionally, most immigrants, even those with lawful status, are not entitled to these benefits until they have been here for at least five years. Immigrants’ paychecks include deductions for Social Security (as do those of any other worker) even though they are not entitled to actually receive these benefits themselves.
Myth #5: Immigrants come to U.S. with the sole purpose of having their babies born here.
If this were so, we would expect to see at least the same number of women coming into the country as men. There are many more young immigrant men coming into the U.S. than there are young women. Research consistently shows that the vast majority of immigrants come to the U.S. for economic opportunity or to flee violence or poverty in their birth countries.
Myth #6: Immigrants bring diseases in the U.S.
The vast majority of immigrants arriving in the U.S. have been screened for health issues. Also, interestingly, the vaccination rate in Mexico is 99%, while the vaccination rate in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador is 93%. The vaccination rate in the U.S. is 92%. According the World Health Organization (WHO), there is no evidence that immigrants have been the source of any modern outbreaks in the U.S.
Myth #7 Terrorists are infiltrating the U.S. by coming across the Mexican border.
The vast majority of U.S. residents linked to terrorism since 2002 are U.S. citizens. According to a 2015 report by the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Counterterrorism, “There are no known international terrorist organizations operating in Mexico.” Additionally, according to the Department of Homeland Security, “the suggestion that individuals that have ties to ISIL have been apprehended at the southwest border is categorically false, and not supported by any credible intelligence or facts on the ground.”
Myth #8: All undocumented immigrants sneak across the Mexican border.
Somewhere between one third and one half of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. have overstayed their visitor, student, or work visas. That means that they entered the U.S. with lawful documentation and only later became undocumented.
Myth #9: We can stop undocumented immigrants from coming into the U.S. by building a wall along the Mexican border.
The border between the U.S. and Mexico is almost 2,000 miles long. It spans difficult terrain including mountains and deserts. Rivers flow along two thirds of the border. Much of the area is private property, which the government would have to buy from the owners in order to build a wall. Building such a wall would be extremely expensive and difficult as well as largely ineffective. History shows that people find ways to cross walls (examples being the Great Wall of China and the Berlin Wall).
The U.S. prides itself on being “a nation of immigrants” – almost everyone in the U.S. is here because their ancestors came to the U.S. from other countries, (the exception obviously being those few who are 100% native American). We are a nation of fairness and equality, it is possible to create a process for addressing immigration that treats immigrants with dignity and respect instead of as criminals.
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