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Immigration Myths

FAQ

IMMIGRATION MYTHS

THE TRUTH ABOUT UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS by Jonathan Yost

“Migrants crossing the US-Mexico border unlawfully can get in line like everyone else”

Wrong. Those who intend to migrate unlawfully from outside the US have few legal pathways,and completing the process can take over 20 years. Those who already reside in the US unlawfully have no pathway to legal status.

The situation faced by those intending to migrate unlawfully:

The majority of those intending to migrate are Mexican, Honduran, Salvadoran, and Guatemalan nationals, and lack a high school degree. Let’s examine what their legal entry options are.

In our immigration system, there are 4 main ways to legally enter the US: family visas, employment visas, humanitarian visas, and lottery visas.

Family visas

If you are a foreign national and have an immediate family member, like a mother, father, husband, wife, minor son or daughter who is a citizen or in some cases a legal permanent resident, there is a line for you with no cap on visas issued to this group. If you are not an immediate family member of a US Citizen or LPR, like an aunt, grandfather or cousin, you cannot get into this line. However, research by the Migration Policy Institute revealed most who
intend to migrate do not have these relationships. Even if they did have the necessary family ties,these lines can be extremely long. Wait times can exceed 20 years. The extreme wait times are a result of the number of visas allocated for each country being set equal, and the disproportionate level of desire of Mexican nationals to migrate to the US.

http://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/frequently-requested-statistics-immigrants-and-immigration-united-states#D emographic
http://www.pewhispanic.org/2015/03/26/share-of-unauthorized-immigrant-workers-in-production-construction-jobs -falls-since-2007/
http://Hanson, Gordon Howard. The Economics and Policy of Illegal Immigration in the United States. Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute, 2010.
https://travel.state.gov/content/visas/en/immigrate/family/family-preference.html
https://travel.state.gov/content/visas/en/immigrate/family/family-preference.html

Employment visas

There are both permanent and temporary employment visas. For permanent visas, if you have specialized skills (i.e. are an engineer, lawyer, doctor, etc.), it is relatively easy to obtain one of these visas. For those without these skills, it is very difficult. If you are low skilled, every year you compete with workers from all over the world for just 5,000 visas. Keep in mind US employers demand hundreds of thousands of new low-skilled immigrants every year.

Lawmakers recognized this huge mismatch between the supply and demand for low-skilled immigrants, and created temporary employment visas. In theory, these visas would help put the immigration system more in sync with economic supply and demand. However, in practice, the effort fell short. It failed because using these visas to fill demand was burdensome for US employers.

To bring in immigrant workers, an employer had to go through 4 different federal agencies, provide these workers with housing and transportation, spend time and money recruiting natives for the position, and demonstrate that hiring these immigrants does not negatively impact native wages and working conditions of US citizens. Strict guidelines and enforcement strongly  discouraged employers from using the visas.

Essentially, an employer’s costs of bringing in laborers legally was much higher than the costs of hiring unlawful workers.

Humanitarian Visas

Humanitarian visas are designed to provide refuge to those fleeing violence or who cannot return to their country because of a natural disaster. The majority of those who intend to migrate unlawfully do not qualify for humanitarian visas, as they are looking for economic opportunities and to reunite with family. If migrants are fleeing violence from south of the border, their chances of obtaining asylum are low. Asylum applications from Salvadorans, Hondurans, and Guatemalans, are denied 70-84% of the time. For Mexicans, applications are denied 96.7% of the time. These high denial rates are in part due to the difficulty of providing necessary documentation of persecution. For several valid reasons, many may not have documentation. Even for those that do, remembering to collect paperwork while fleeing danger may be difficult.

Deciding to apply for asylum has its own risks. For example, if Central Americans targeted by vicious street gangs apply as an asylee inside the US, and are denied and subsequently deported, they may be murdered by said gangs. If they apply as refugees from their country of origin, the lengthy immigration process could result in the same fate. For Salvadorans, there existed an option to apply for a temporary humanitarian visa, called
Temporary Protected Status (TPS), but has been canceled as of January 8, 2018. The 200,000 Salvadorans legally residing in the US under the program have until September 9, 2019 to self-deport.

Ngai, Mae M. “The Civil Rights Origins of Illegal Immigration.” International Labor and Working-Class History (1):93–99. 2010. FitzGerald, David. “Mexican Migration and the Law.” (2011).Hanson, Gordon Howard. The Economics and Policy of Illegal Immigration in the United States. Washington, DC:Migration Policy Institute, 2010.
Hanson, Gordon Howard. The Economics and Policy of Illegal Immigration in the United States. Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute, 2010.
https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/homesec/R42434.pdf
Nowrasteh, Alex. “Immigration Reform: The Portable Guest Worker Visa Solution.” CATO Institute. 28 January, 2013. Web. 1 September, 2016.                Hanson, Gordon Howard. The Economics and Policy of Illegal Immigration in the United States. Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute, 2010.

Lottery visa

The last avenue to enter lawfully is through the annual visa lottery. Every year, the lottery makes 50,000 permanent resident visas available to nationals of countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. However, winning a visa lottery is not an option for Mexican and Salvadoran nationals, as their levels of immigration are too high to qualify. Hondurans and Guatemalans are eligible for the lottery. However, they must have proof of high school education or show proof of two years of work experience within past 5 years. Given that these individuals live in one of the most dangerous non-war zones on the planet, where levels of educational attainment and employment are low, fulfilling these requirements can be difficult. Furthermore, the application process requires a lot of waiting, and in their situation, waiting could mean death at the hands of criminal gangs.

The situation for undocumented migrants already in the US:

For those already here, obtaining legal status is even more difficult. With the exception those applying for a humanitarian visa, who were victims of crime resulting in substantial mental or physical abuse while here and are cooperating with a police investigation, or those who were trafficked while here and cooperating with a police investigation, there simply is no line. They must exit the US and apply for legal status from their country of origin, and face all the challenges described above.

http://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/frequently-requested-statistics-immigrants-and-immigration-united-states# Demographic
https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/Refugees_Asylees_2015.pdf
https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/trump-administration-to-end-provisional-residency-for-20 0000-salvadorans/2018/01/08/badfde90-f481-11e7-beb6-c8d48830c54d_story.html?utm_term=.fa2205630a9b
https://travel.state.gov/content/dam/visas/Diversity-Visa/DV-Instructions-Translations/DV-2018-Instructions-Tran slations/DV-2018%20Instructions%20English.pdf
http://www.cfr.org/transnational-crime/central-americas-violent-northern-triangle/p37286

“Immigrants — both documented and undocumented — bring crime to this country”

Wrong. Native-born US citizens are twice as likely to commit crime than undocumented immigrants.

According to a 2015 report from the CATO institute, a well-regarded think tank, documented and undocumented immigrants have incarceration rates far below those of native-born
Americans. The undocumented are incarcerated a rate of 0.85%, and native-born US citizens at a rate of 1.53%.

“More border enforcement will make unlawfully entry more difficult”

Not necessarily. Despite spending $263 billion on immigration enforcement, 9 out of every 10 migrants who attempt to cross more than once succeed in entering the country.

From 1986 to present, the government has spent $263 billion taxpayer dollars on interior and border enforcement. Border enforcement entailed the building of 700 miles of wall, purchase of blackhawk helicopters, drones, heat sensors, seismic sensors, motion sensors, and large increases in manpower. According to immigration expert Dr. Wayne Cornelius of UC San Diego and founder of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies, greater border enforcement has not translated into more success in apprehending those crossing unlawfully. The research he collected from 2005-2015 revealed that those crossing unlawfully succeed at roughly a rate of 53-79% on their first try, and if apprehended and then try again (and the vast majority do try again), succeeded at a rate of 89-98%.

“Unlawfully crossing the border through the desert is easy”

Wrong. Migrants crossing through the desert face many potentially fatal environmental and human dangers. This is reflected in the deaths of thousands — possibly tens of thousands — of migrant men, women, and children.

Crossing the border through the desert can be very difficult. Migrant men, women, and children face both environmental and human dangers. The main environmental risks include fatal heat and cold exposure, and drowning. They trek through the harsh desert, rugged mountains, and thick bush. Human risks include robbery, kidnapping, rape and murder at the hands of violent gangs, cartels, traffickers, and smugglers. According to ACLU researcher Maria Jimenez, migrants who fall behind the group they are attempting to cross with, for any reason, are left to fend for themselves in the extreme elements. Therefore, something as minor as a stepping on a cactus needle can become a death sentence.

These dangers have led to the deaths of thousands of men, women, and children. According to Border Patrol data, 7,209 migrants have died while crossing over the last 20 years. However, the actual death toll is likely much higher. According to a five-year investigation by USA Today researchers, more comprehensive estimates — adding human remains recovered by local law enforcement, humanitarian groups, ranchers, etc. — were 25% to 300% higher than that of Border Patrol. If these percentages were applied to the 20-year time period, a more complete estimate 23 could range from 9,100 to just under 29,000 deaths. Even these figures would be 24 underestimates, based on the fact that many human remains simply disappear in the harsh elements of the desert, and cannot therefore be recorded.

Prieto, Greg. n.d. The Immigration Debate: The Legal Production of Immigrant ‘Illegality.’ Unpublished draft. Pg
72-73.
https://www.cato.org/blog/immigration-crime-what-research-says
http://www.nnirr.org/drupal/sites/default/files/aic-the_cost_of_immigration_enforcement_and_border_security.pdf
Cornelius, Wayne. Mexican Migration Field Research Program 2005-2015. UC San Diego.

“Undocumented immigrants don’t pay taxes”

Wrong. They pay billions in local, state, and federal taxes.

According to the Social Security Administration’s chief actuary Stephen C. Goss, undocumented immigrants pay roughly $6 billion in federal taxes every year. Regarding state and local taxes, the conservative Heritage Foundation estimated the undocumented paid $11.6 billion in 2013. This included sales and excise, property, and personal income taxes. This totals to roughly $17.6
billion paid in state, local, and federal taxes every year.

“Immigrants — both documented and undocumented — take more in government services than they contribute in taxes”

True in the short term, and false in the long term. We must first understand that first-generation immigrants AND native-born US citizens take more in services than they give in taxes, but first generation immigrants take less. Second and third-generation immigrants provide larger and larger net surpluses. Adding up all contributions and losses, the economy receives a fiscal benefit of almost $200 billion over the three generations.

A September 2016 study published by the National Academy of Sciences, entitled “The Economic and Fiscal Costs of Immigrants,” took a look at the impact of both documented and undocumented immigrants on the economy. The formative, 550-page report stated that all first generation immigrants, both documented and undocumented, consume $57 billion more in public services than they contribute in taxes every year. The second generation immigrant population, with improved education and greater contribution in taxes, give more than they take from the government. They actually add $30 billion every year. For third generation immigrants, this upward trend continues, as they add $223 billion a year.

First-generation migrants and the native-born take more in services than they pay in taxes. However, first-generation migrants are less of a net-loss to the government than the native born, at all levels of education (other than a bachelor’s degree).

https://www.aclu.org/sites/default/files/field_document/humanitariancrisisreport.pdf, pg. 25.
https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/politics/border-issues/2017/12/14/investigation-border-patrol-undercounts-de aths-border-crossing-migrants/933689001/

http://www.politifact.com/punditfact/statements/2016/oct/02/maria-teresa-kumar/how-much-do-undocumented-im migrants-pay-taxes/

“Low-skilled immigrants — both documented and undocumented — steal jobs”

Mostly false, and becoming more false over time. Low-skilled migrants and low-skilled native-born Americans rarely compete for the same jobs, so there is very little displacement of natives laborers by immigrants.

According to Urban Institute scholar Maria Enchautegui, low-skilled immigrants generally do not steal native’s jobs. She studied 16 million workers in the US without high school diplomas. She found that within this group, immigrants and native-born workers perform very different work. Furthermore, she found that competition is reduced even greater at higher levels of skill, due to the centrality of the English language in the higher tiers of the US job market. The differences exist most likely due to limited English-speaking ability, lower technical skills, and less exposure to the US job market. Even if undocumented workers were to attain legal status, they still may not be competing with natives for low-skilled jobs.

She said this difference is expected to grow in the future. She cites increasing native education levels over time, while the number of immigrants without a high school degree has been increasing. According to Enchautegui, by the year 2022, 4 million more jobs that do not require a high school education will be added to the US economy. Given more natives will be moving on to higher-skilled jobs, the US demand for low-skill immigrants will increase.

“The US is being invaded by undocumented Mexican immigrants”

False. We are not being invaded by Mexican immigrants. From 2007 until now, 1 million more undocumented Mexican migrants have left the US than have come in.

According to a March 2, 2017 PEW Research report, “the number of Mexican immigrants living in the U.S. illegally has declined by more than 1 million since 2007.” A November 19, 2015 PEW report showed from 2009-2014 there were more documented and undocumented Mexican migrants leaving than coming to the US. Since this period, migration has been at net-zero.

https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/22/us/immigrants-arent-taking-americans-jobs-new-study-finds.html
https://www.nap.edu/read/23550/chapter/13#440
https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/10/immigrants-arent-stealing-american-jobs/433158/
http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/03/02/what-we-know-about-illegal-immigration-from-mexico/
http://www.pewhispanic.org/2015/11/19/more-mexicans-leaving-than-coming-to-the-u-s/
http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/04/14/mexico-us-border-apprehensions/