Myths about immigration reform: a guide

Por en 01/9/13 11:58am
Diana Saravia, 10, protests for immigration reform in front of the White House this past November (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

House Republicans are moving immigration hawks like Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., into positions of power on the congressional committees that’ll decide immigration reform, as documented in this excellent NPR story.

That means the Grand Old Party is gearing up for a fight.

President Obama has said we need to “seize the moment” on immigration reform this year, after Latinos helped him drub Mitt Romney in the 2012 election.  Obama is widely expected to make immigration reform a staple of this year’s State of the Union, in marked contrast to previous addresses.

Here are some of the top myths about immigration and the truth behind the issues.

Myth Number One: Immigrants, especially Mexicans, could just “wait in line” instead of crossing the border.

Truth:

“If migrating legally to the United States were as easy as your amiga insists, you think Mexicans would pay thousands of dollars in smuggling fees and subject themselves to the terrorizing whims of coyotes when the legal way sets you back, after attorney fees and everything, a couple of thousand dollars?” asked national columnist (of “Ask a Mexican” fame) Gustavo Arrellano.Arrellano in a 2011 column.

“If illegal immigrants didn’t want to pay taxes, then why do so many assume fake numbers that ensures payroll and Social Security taxes get pulled, the latter of which they’ll never get back? If illegal Mexis wanted to live high on the government queso, then why do you see so many of them selling flowers and strawberries on street corners? Tell your amiga that legal immigration takes years, ones that poor people can’t afford to waste in poverty when a risky trip will do the trick[…]”

Myth Number Two: The United States doesn’t prioritize “securing our borders” and “enforcing the law” over providing sanctuary of various forms to immigrants.

That was addressed recently by the Migration Policy Institute, which released a report pointing out that the US spends more on immigration than all federal criminal enforcement combined.

Ruthie Epstein, Senior Associate with Human Rights First’s Refugee Protection Program, said she hopes the federal government cuts back on immigrant detention.

“As immigration reform debates heat up, we may hear calls for increased detention of immigrants in removal proceedings,” Epstein said. “It’s a misguided approach to enforcement.”

Right now, Epstein added, ICE holds more than 400,000 immigrants, costing taxpayers $2 billion. There are cheaper and more humane alternatives to be explored.

Myth Number Three: Immigrants are bad for the economy. 

That’s been debunked and criticized not by bleeding heart hippie dips, but the United States Chamber of Commerce.

“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,” the Chamber pointed out in a report last year.

Myth Number 4: Immigrants are criminals

Other myths say that immigrants “bring crime” and cheat the system by failing to pay taxes. Both claims are false, as demonstrated by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

My own personal favorite myth: That illegal immigration is a “crime.” It is, in fact, less than a civil offense — it’s administrative, like a parking ticket.