News and views from the award-winning author of the novels The Skinny Years, America Libre, House Divided and Pancho Land

Monday, January 14, 2008

Debunking the nativist myths

Three of the most pervasive myths about illegal immigrants have once again been exposed as fallacies by a host of recent reports and data.

Myth #1: Illegal immigrants drain our social services

The Facts: Since 1994 welfare cases across the United States have declined over 60%. Almost every state in the union has seen welfare cases drop by at least a third. Some states have seen them plummet by 90%. Now here’s the kicker: during this same period the U.S. illegal immigrant population doubled. So if the nativist myth was true, our welfare roles should have ballooned, not shrunk. (Lest some think these welfare numbers reflect a liberal agenda, the data was published in December 2007 by Commentary magazine, a self-proclaimed “flagship of neoconservatism.”) In addition, a UCLA study late in 2007 showed illegal immigrants are less likely than native-born Hispanics to use emergency rooms for normal medical care, refuting yet another common nativist allegation.

Myth #2: Illegal immigrants increase crime

The Facts: The U.S. Department of Justice reported the violent crime rate in the U.S. declined by 34.2% and the property crime rate fell by 26.4% between 1994 and 2005, reaching their lowest levels since 1973. Again, this same period coincides with a massive influx of undocumented immigrants into the United States. Just as significantly, immigrants from countries that comprise the bulk of our illegal alien population, (Mexico, San Salvador and Guatemala), have lower incarceration rates than native-born citizens.

Myth #3: Illegal immigrants steal jobs from Americans

The Facts: According to the Wall Street Journal, “immigrants aren't stealing jobs but filling them. The economic activity they create as consumers and entrepreneurs contributes to the overall economic growth.” Need proof? In January of 1994 when the current wave of undocumented workers to the U.S. began, the national unemployment rate was 6.6%. In December 2007, the unemployment rate stood at 4.7%. The number of people out of work has consistently dropped during this period - exactly the opposite of nativist assertions. Although a recession may be on the horizon, most economists cite a slump in the once red-hot housing market as the cause, not the presence of undocumented workers.

It’s evident that the xenophobes are taking the low road in the immigration debate. Their lies about illegal immigrants are a stain on the integrity of this nation. Do illegal immigrants deserve a free pass? Of course not. Their continued presence is a fact we have to address – and soon. As long as millions of undocumented workers remain in the shadows, we cannot be sure we are adequately taxing their income or protecting our national security. But the path to a reasonable solution in this crisis is best navigated without resorting to shameless distortions of the truth.

Raul Ramos y Sanchez