Business Group Seeks to Explode Immigration Myths

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently released a report entitled Immigration: Myths and Facts, designed to refute several common misconceptions that have crept into our national debate on immigration policy. (See Immigration: Myths and Facts, Labor, Immigration & Employee Benefit Division, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, 01.May.2011.) Far from being a drag on the economy, the Chamber explained, “our compilation shows that immigrants significantly benefit the U.S. economy by creating new jobs, and complementing the skills of the U.S. native workforce, with a net positive impact on wage rates overall.”

Among the immigration myths the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sought to explode:

  • Immigrants take jobs that could be filled by unemployed Americans. In fact, the Chamber notes that “Immigrants typically do not compete for jobs with native-born workers and immigrants create jobs as entrepreneurs, consumers, and taxpayers.” Immigrant workers are not substitutes for American workers, but generally bring different skills that complement the American workforce. Immigrants also are highly entrepreneurial, the Chamber points out, and often create jobs for Americans.
  • Immigrants depress the wages of American workers. Actually, reports the Chamber, “Immigrants give a slight boost to the wages of most Americans by increasing their productivity and stimulating investment.” The Chamber’s report cites a recent study by the Economic Policy Institute, showing that the wages of native-born workers increase by a small – but measureable – amount as immigration increases.
  • Immigrants will “over-populate” the United States. Actually not. In fact, says the Chamber, immigrant workers, and their children, are sorely needed to fill a demographic hole left by the aging of the Baby Boom generation: a growing labor force is needed to create a tax base capable of paying for Social Security and Medicare for 77 million Baby Boomers who are already starting to reach retirement age. Demand for health care workers will increase as the population ages, and foreign-born workers will be needed to take up the slack.
  • Undocumented immigrants do not pay taxes. Simply not true, the Chamber reports, noting that “undocumented immigrants pay billions of dollars in taxes each year, often for benefits they will never receive.” Over half of the undocumented immigrants working in the U.S. are working “on the books,” paying billions in federal and state income taxes, as well as Social Security and Medicare taxes. The Chamber cites a study by the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy showing that “households headed by undocumented immigrants paid $11.2 billion in personal income taxes, $1.6 billion in property taxes, and $8.4 billion in sales taxes.
  • Immigrants come to the United States for welfare benefits. Not true. As the Chamber correctly points out, “Undocumented immigrants are not eligible for federal public benefit programs, and legal immigrants face stringent eligibility restrictions.” Federal benefits like Social Security, SSI, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, Medicaid, Medicare and food stamps are all unavailable to illegal immigrants – as are many programs at the state and local level.
  • Today’s immigrants are not assimilating into U.S. society. Not true, says the Chamber, citing demographic trends toward higher incomes, speedier naturalization, and increasing levels of home-ownership among recent immigrants. As the Chamber notes, those seeking naturalization are required to learn English as well as the basics of American civics and government.
  • Immigrants are more likely to commit crimes than U.S. natives. Wrong again. Crime rates have not fluctuated in lockstep with changes in immigration rates, the Chamber notes, adding that “immigrants have lower incarceration rates than native-born Americans.” From 1990 to 2009, the number of illegal immigrants tripled, but the violent crime rate dropped by 41 percent, and the property crime rate fell by 40 percent, according to FBI and Pew Hispanic Center statistics.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce report is a welcome addition to our national debate on immigration. Not only does it confront the major misconceptions about immigration in a simple, straightforward, and factual way, it carefully documents its assertions and provides footnotes to the underlying statistical and demographic studies that back them up. It also shows that pro-business forces are willing to get behind sensible immigration reforms that are based on the facts, not on ideology or fear-mongering. It’s a handy reference for anyone who wants to sift out the facts from the mountains of misinformation that have built up in the course of our national immigration debate.

Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.