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Myths about Immigration

MYTH:  Immigration is a drain on the U.S. economy.

FACT:    Immigration helps the U.S. economy develop.  An estimated 17.9 million immigrants are currently working in the U.S.  This accounting for 14% of the total civilian labor force.  Compared to the native-born, a significantly higher percentage of immigrants are of working age (b/w 28 and 54 years of age).  Immigrants are just as likely to be self-employed and start new businesses as the native-born.  They generate employment, and bring new innovations and creative diversity to our communities.  Additionally, new immigrants often take positions that U.S.workers are less likely to fill - in manufacturing, computer technology, service work, and engineering.  These immigrants help keep the U.S. internationally competitive and give U.S. businesses a more global perspective - an outlook that is becoming increasingly necessary in this era of globalization.

MYTH:  Immigrants abuse the Social Security and Welfare systems.
While all immigrants are required to pay taxes - including sales, income and property taxes - most immigrants are barred from receiving public assistance.  Only refugees, asylees, and some legal immigrants are eligible to receive any public benefits, and even those who are eligible for benefits are subject to time limits.  Undocumented persons are not eligible for any public benefit program, with the exception of emergency medical assistance.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 1999, approximately one in five foreign-born householders received benefits such as food stamps and housing assistance.  This use, however, is heavily concentrated among refugees and elderly immigrants - populations we are committed to and legally obligated to assist.  Furthermore, immigrants are large contributors to - rather than recipients of - Social Security, and will play an integral role in financing Social Security as the U.S. population ages.  A study in 2005 found that undocumented immigrants pay $6-7 billion in Social Security taxes along that they will never be able to claim.

MYTH:  Immigrants cause urban problems.
The U.S. Census Bureau reports that "the foreign-born population is more concentrated than the native population in metropolitan areas and in their central cities."  However, areas that receive new immigrants are most often transformed and revitalized by these newcomers.  Dominican immigrants revitalized Washington Heights in Manhattan's Upper West Side, and an array of new arrivals revitalized Nicollet Avenue ("Eat Street") and Lake Street in South Minneapolis.  These examples are repeated hundreds of times across the country.  According to the Alexis de Tocqueville Institute, a study carried out over an 18-year period in Washington D.C. revealed that there is a positive correlation between the number of immigrants in a neighborhood and increasing property values.  As one real-estate agent put it, with immigration "there goes the neighborhood - up."

MYTH:  There is a higher percentage of immigrants in the U.S. now than     ever before in U.S. history.
Although the actual number of immigrants currently living in the U.S. continues to grow, when considered as a percentage of the population, the levels are not as high as they have been in the past.  Currently, about 12% of the U.S. population is foreign born.  However, between 1890 and 1910, nearly 15% of the population was foreign born.

MYTH:  The United States is being overrun with illegal immigrants.
The estimated number of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. ranges from 10 to 11 million.  Even the highest estimate accounts for less than 4% of the U.S. population.  Many people who currently do not have legal permission to reside in the country did, in fact, enter legally.  Experts estimate that between 25-40% of all undocumented immigrants came legally to this country and became undocumented by remaining here after their periods of authorized stay expired.

MYTH:  Most immigrants to the United States are undocumented aliens who come only for economic reasons.
According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, 946,142 immigrants were legally admitted to the U.S. in FY2004, compared with a much smaller number of people who entered the U.S. without permission.  This number includes both people who were adjusting their status and new arrivals.  Smaller numbers of people came to the U.S. without legal permission.  It is estimated that a net average of 500,000 people came annually in the last decade.

U.S. immigration policy allows immigration for three main reasons:
1) Family
2) Work
3) Freedom
Of the immigrants coming legally to the U.S. in 2004, 66% came to be reunited with immediate family members (parents, children, siblings, or spouses), 16% were sponsored by U.S. employers to fill in positions for which no U.S. worker was available, and an additional 8% came as refugees or asylees, fleeing persecution and looking for safety and freedom in the U.S.  Undocumented people come for a variety of reasons.  We often talk about these reasons in terms of "push" and "pull."  "Push" factors are the reasons at home that cause someone to leave - examples include poverty, lack of job opportunities, natural disasters, and political instability.  "Pull" factors are the reasons elsewhere that cause someone to arrive - examples include increased freedom, job opportunities, and joining family members.  Like generations of immigrants before them, all of these immigrants come to this country looking for a better life, and their energy and ideas enrich all of our communities.

©2006 Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights

650 South Third Avenue, Suite 550, Minneapolis, MN  55402

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