Sunday, June 18, 2006

Hospitality to Strangers and Immigration, Part II

The latest Sojourners Magazine uses data from the Justice for Immigrants website ( ) to explode the myths about immigration with the cold light of truth:

Myth: Immigrants, at least, illegal immigrants, don’t pay taxes. False. Even undocumented immigrants pay taxes: income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, and other taxes at the local, state, and federal levels. The Social Security Administration has a “suspense file” of FICA taxes that cannot be matched to workers’ names and Social Security Numbers—evidence of the taxes paid by undocumented workers using fake names. That suspense file grew by $20 billion between 1990 and 1998, the last year for which data was released to the public.

Myth: Immigrants come to the U.S. to take welfare. No one who sees how poor our welfare system is could believe that. If someone was going to emigrate in order to take advantage of the social safety net, they would be far better off going to Canada where health care is free! In fact, the ratio of immigrant use of public benefits in the U.S. and the amount of taxes they pay is consistently favorable to the U.S. In one estimate, immigrant tax payments total $20-30 billion MORE than the amount of government services they use.

Myth: Immigrants send all their money back to their home countries. False. Certainly “remittances” or payment to relatives back home amounts to a considerable amount in many cases, and some poor nations depend heavily on such remittances from relatives in rich Western nations. But, in addition to all the consumer spending that immigrants do, immigrant households and immigrant businesses contribute $162 billion in tax revenues to federal, state, and local governments in the U.S.

Myth: Immigrants take jobs and opportunities away from U.S. citizens. This is probably the favorite scare tactic of politicians, but the largest wave of immigration in the U.S. since the early 1900s coincided with the lowest national unemployment rate and the fastest economic growth.

Myth: Immigrants are a drain on the U.S. economy. The net benefit of immigration to the U.S. is nearly $10 billion annually.

Myth: Immigrants don’t want to learn English or become “real Americans.” Within 10 years of arrival, more than 75% of immigrants speak fluent English. Moreover, demand for adult-level English classes far exceeds supply. We don’t need an “official language” or other discriminatory laws to be sure that English continues to be learned. Only in the U.S., moreover, does the average person seem totally fearful of ever learning more than one language. Further, immigrants learn American history faster and more thoroughly than most who are born here—while Americans stubbornly refuse to learn much about the rest of the world.

Myth: Immigration in the past was great because the country needed more population. But now we have simply become too crowded and the percentage of immigrants is greater than ever before. False. The portion of the U.S. population that is foreign-born now stands at 11.5 % whereas in the early 20th C. it was approximately 15%.

Myth: Most immigrants cross the border illegally. Well, my family did. And the U.S.-Mexico border used to be far different. Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, Nevada, and California were all once Northwest Mexico. But, in fact, around 75% of all immigrants have legal permanent (immigrant) visas. Of the 15% who are undocumented, 40% have not snuck across any border, but simply overstayed temporary (non-immigrant) visas.

Myth: Weak U.S. border enforcement has led to high levels of undocumented immigration. Look, the way to decrease illegal immigration is to solve the terrible political, economic, and other problems in countries of origin that lead desperate people to try anything to get to the promise of a better life in America. From 1986 to 1998, the Border Patrol’s budget increased six-fold, and the number of agents stationed on the U.S.-Mexico border doubled to 8,500. During the same period, the undocumented immigrant population also doubled to 8 million. One reason for the problem has been mentioned. Another is that a dwindling number of legal avenues for immigrants to enter the U.S., compared with the number of jobs in need of workers, has led many to seek unofficial ways into the country.

Myth: The so-called “war on terrorism” can be won through immigration restrictions. This myth seems popular even with Democrats, and even with some otherwise progressive and justice-oriented Democrats! But, since 9/11, the many measures targeting immigrants in the name of national security have resulted in ZERO terrorism prosecutions. In fact, several of these measures could have the opposite effect and actually make us less safe from attack, since targeted communities of immigrants are afraid to come forward with information they may have overheard.

So, since the “practical case for immigration restriction” is mythical, and the history of this nation and most of our families is the history of a country built on immigrant labor, immigrant hopes, immigrant dreams, and immigrant talent and ingenuity, why don’t we tune out the harsh, cruel sounds of anti-immigrant bigotry and re-introduce ourselves to the biblical traditions of hospitality to strangers? I suggest that it is past time for such a move.

by Michael the Leveller, who just recently restarted his blog, Levellers.


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