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5 Things You Won't Hear About Immigration on Cable News

by Matt Hershberger May 6, 2016

DONALD TRUMP IS OFFICIALLY THE SOLE candidate for President on the Republican side. Trump has built his campaign on calling for a wall along the Mexican border, calling immigrants “rapists,” and just generally lying about America’s newcomers, and for whatever reason, the mainstream media has a really hard time pushing back against these lies. Which is dangerous — if Trump repeats a lie enough times without a pushback, the public will start to believe it.

Until the televised debates start including live fact-checks a la “Pop-Up Video,” we’re going to have to push back against some of the falsehoods he’s been spreading here online. These are the things you won’t hear about immigration on cable news.

1. Immigrants commit less crime than American citizens.

The characterization of immigrants as being criminals is an old one. Every American immigrant group has been unfairly painted as having criminal tendencies. The evidence for this is almost always anecdotal: there will be a news story about an undocumented immigrant who committed a crime, and that will be used to confirm the anti-immigrant bias.

This belies a very simple fact: new immigrants actually commit fewer crimes than American citizens. A 2007 report from the Immigration Policy Center found that “for every ethnic group without exception, incarceration rates among young men are lowest for immigrants, even those who are the least educated. This holds true especially for the Mexicans, Salvadorans, and Guatemalans who make up the bulk of the undocumented population.”

And while immigration was increasing in the 2000’s, the FBI reported that violent crime was actually falling.

Anecdotes do not indicate a trend. There are criminals that are immigrants, but the vast majority of immigrants are not criminals.

2. Walls don’t work.

Trump’s ludicrous wall was perfectly obliterated by HBO comedian John Oliver, who pointed out that walls are a ridiculous waste of money that can be defeated by rudimentary technologies like ladders, ropes, tunnels, and good throwing arms.

It also misses the point: around 40% of people living in the United States illegally didn’t cross the border — they overstayed their visas. So building a wall would be an absurdly expensive way to not solve a problem.

3. Immigrants — even undocumented immigrants — do pay taxes.

Part of what fills people with rage about immigrants is the idea that they are somehow mooching off of the system. The idea that they’re causing an undue burden to our social systems is a frustrating one for many people who might otherwise be sympathetic to immigrants. Fortunately, this idea does not have much basis in fact.

A recent report from the Institute for Taxation & Economic policy found that undocumented immigrants alone kick in about $12 billion dollars a year — and that’s just in state and local taxes. The Economic Report of the President found that the average immigrant pays $120,000 more in taxes than they take out of the system (this, it should be noted, includes immigrants that are here legally). Undocumented immigrants are actually helping keep Social Security and Medicare stay afloat, as they put so much in and take so little out.

If legalized, undocumented immigrants would end up paying more in taxes, of course. But this isn’t an argument for deporting them: it’s an argument for giving them a pathway to citizenship.

4. Immigrants don’t “steal jobs.”

Another extremely common complaint against immigrants is that they “steal jobs” from American citizens. This, it turns out, is also not really the case. For the most part, immigrants and natives perform jobs that complement each other rather than compete against each other — a native working in the same business as an undocumented immigrant, for example, will work in jobs that require more English, and that will generally pay better than that of the immigrant.

Ironically, immigrants often actually end up creating more jobs than they take. According to one study, in some industries, the presence of a single immigrant creates 1.2 jobs. Meaning that for every 100 new immigrants, 120 jobs are made. And many immigrants create businesses, which in turn can provide jobs for native-born people. The reason is because the presence of more people is good for an economy: more people means more work can be done, more money can be spent, and more goods and services can be exchanged.

There may be situations where local workers are in competition with undocumented workers, and in this case, those local workers may be outcompeted by immigrants who can work for less money. But across the economy, immigrants (including the undocumented) create more jobs than they take.

5. Undocumented immigrants don’t have a “line” they can get into.

The other week, a family member told me, “I don’t have anything against immigrants. I just wish they’d get in line and come here legally.” This would be a fair point — that we should give favor to the people who do things the “right” way.

The problem is that, for most undocumented immigrants, no such “line” exists. The American immigration system is a labyrinthine nightmare for low-income immigrants that involves a lot of dead-ends for most of them. Even if they can be one of the lucky few to get “in line,” the wait can be decades long. The amount of people we let in does not reflect our employment needs — the US only grants 5,000 low-skill worker green cards per year, when we need much, much more than this, seeing as our native population is becoming more and more well-educated, and thus less likely to take jobs in menial labor. Immigrants can help to fill that gap, so it’s silly that we’re not letting more in.

Furthermore, it’s ridiculous to think that immigrants would rather be here illegally: life as an undocumented immigrant is scary. You can be deported, you can be exploited by employers, and you can be bullied into not reporting, say, an assault against yourself or a family member to the police out of the fear of getting put into deportation proceedings. The vast majority of immigrants would much rather come here legally, and would much rather be a part of the system rather than outside it.

What we should be doing is creating a system that allows more people to get into the country legally, and welcoming the new immigrants into our society. Every new group of immigrants has added something invaluable to American culture and society — that’s something we should embrace, not reject.

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