Appendix B, Immigration Myths
Despite economic evidence and other data demonstrating the positive economic impact of immigrant labor, one of the most strongly held myths is the belief that immigrants "steal" the jobs of native workers or shrink their wages.
It persists despite former President Bush's economic advisers reporting in 2007 that, "On average, U.S. natives benefit from immigration. Immigrants tend to complement (not substitute for) natives, raising natives' productivity and income."1
They also noted that estimates put the total wage gains from immigration by natives at more than $30 billion per year, concluding that, "Sharply reducing immigration would be a poorly-targeted and inefficient way to assist low-wage Americans."2
However, policy papers and research are often no match for the hysteria drummed up by radio and television pundits parroting myths as fact. They have helped entrench beliefs that blame immigrants for economic woes, crime and disease when even the most cursory research often debunks these myths.
Despite pundits arguing that Latino immigrants refuse to assimilate and learn English, almost 57 percent of Latinos questioned in a survey believe immigrants must speak English to say they are part of American society. An overwhelming 92 percent of all Latinos surveyed said it is "very important" to teach English to the children of immigrant families. The number was even greater for foreign-born Latinos, where 96 percent of those surveyed said it was a "very important" goal.3
Long Lines for English Classes
Even more telling are the long waiting lists for English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. One report found that out of 176 providers offering classes, 57 percent reported waiting lists ranging from a few weeks to more than three years.4
Another popular myth blames immigrants for higher levels of crime, though several studies conducted over the past 100 years have shown that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes or be incarcerated than natives.5
The incarceration rate for native-born men age 18—39, a group that comprises much of the prison population, was 3.5 percent in 2000 — five times greater than the foreign-born incarceration rate of 0.7 percent. Since 1994 the nation's undocumented immigrant population has doubled to 12 million, while the violent crime rate dropped 34 percent and property crime dropped 26 percent. The crime rate also declined in cities with large immigrant populations, such as Miami, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.6
Because they risk deportation, undocumented immigrants have a strong motivation to avoid any brushes with the law.
Crime Myth Persists
The crime myth persists despite evidence to the contrary, a problem the Immigration Policy Center highlighted by noting that, "The problem of crime in the United States is not 'caused' or even aggravated by immigrants, regardless of their legal status. But the misperception that the opposite is true persists among policymakers, the media, and the general public, thereby undermining the development of reasoned public responses to both crime and immigration."7
A particularly insidious myth is the belief that immigrants, particularly undocumented immigrants, are spreading diseases such as leprosy. CNN news anchor Lou Dobbs helped spread the false claim that 7,000 new cases of leprosy were reported in the United States during a recent three-year period. Government health statistics show that the number of reported cases in the United States "peaked at 361 in 1985 and has declined since 1988."8
Immigrants also have been blamed for spreading diseases such as malaria, a claim that ignores the fact the disease is transmitted by mosquitoes, not immigrants or any human for that matter. The resurgence of another health concern — bedbugs — has also been blamed on immigrants. Although the reemergence of bedbugs is real, immigrants are not the culprit. Research has attributed the phenomenon to the pervasive use of baits over insecticide sprays previously used to control cockroaches and ants.9
1. Executive Office of the President, Council of Economic Advisers, Immigration's Economic Impact, Washington, DC, June 20, 2007, p. 1.
2. Id, p. 4.
3. "Hispanic Attitudes Toward Learning English," Pew Hispanic Center fact sheet, June 7, 2006.
4. James Thomas Tucker,"The ESL Logjam: Waiting Times for Adult ESL Classes and the Impact on English Learners," National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, September 2006, p.1.
5. "Immigrants and Crime: Are They Connected?," Immigration Policy Center fact sheet, December 2007, p. 1.
6. Rubén G. Rumbaut and Walter A. Ewing, "The Myth of Immigrant Criminality and the Paradox of Assimilation: Incarceration Rates among Native and Foreign-Born Men," Immigration Policy Center, American Immigration Law Foundation, Spring 2007, p. 1.
7. Id, p. 1.
8. Ruth Ann Jajosky, et al., "Summary of Notifiable Diseases — United States," 2004, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, June 16, 2006.
9. Heidi Beirich, "Immigration: Getting The Facts Straight," Intelligence Report, Summer 2007.