6 Dumb Myths People Constantly Believe About Immigration
In an election cycle during which backlash against police shootings has inspired social movements, heroin abuse has hit epidemic levels, overpasses and bridges are collapsing underneath us, and climate change is still being questioned by people who are actually running for president, one issue has stood out as the go-to hot button topic:
What are we going to do about all these ding-dang illegal immigrants living and working among us?
Admittedly, that's a pretty glib summation of a topic that warrants serious discussion. But some people think the issues listed above could get more attention if undocumented immigrants weren't bleeding America dry of our financial resources. Whether you have a "live and let live" approach or you're convinced that every person with a foreign accent is destroying this country from within, you're probably operating under some false assumptions about the issue. For example ...
All Republicans Hate Undocumented Immigrants
Everyone knows the Republican party has a throbbing righteous boner for sending undocumented people back from whence they came. As far as 2016's GOP presidential contenders are concerned, this is absolutely correct. Ted Cruz wants every option on the table: a border wall, more deportations, a moratorium on illegal immigration until more Americans have jobs, and something about biometrics.
"I don't really know what it means. I just like it 'cause it sounds all sciency."
And Cruz's plan is the more logical of the two GOP frontrunners. Trump's immigration plan, which he clearly wrote himself, is to make wiring money outside the country illegal for immigrants unless they have their citizenship documents on hand. Which he then assumes will make Mexico angry. (He specifically says "Mexico," as if all immigrants are Mexican. More on that in a minute.) To quote his plan directly:
On day 3 tell Mexico that if the Mexican government will contribute the funds needed to the United States to pay for the wall, the Trump Administration will not promulgate the final rule, and the regulation will not go into effect.
"This is directed to Mexico's Ministry of Accepting Payments and Dispatching Rapists."
Basically, if Mexico agrees to pay for a giant wall on its border with the U.S., the U.S. will then benevolently allow Mexican immigrants to send their money out of the country. (It is important to note that Trump has no problem with rich white men like himself pouring money into offshore accounts to avoid paying taxes.) Trump's solution to illegal immigration is to play the part of the world's least competent mafia boss: He asks for protection money to get what he wants without offering protection to his victims. Something tells us he'll definitely get that wall from Mexico if he wins.
The point is that if your eyes are trained on Cruz and Trump, a very clear message comes out of the Republican party: Get illegal aliens out of America.
Much like undocumented immigrants themselves, Republicans are all over the map when it comes to immigration reform. Donald Trump's plan is so far out of the mainstream of traditional GOP policy that he is an extremist in his own party.
Though any description of him as such just pushes his numbers higher.
For context, the last time a major illegal immigration law hit the books was 1986. Back in those days, a Democrat and a Republican joined forces under Ronald Reagan to pass the Immigration Reform and Control Act. Thanks to that law, almost three million undocumented immigrants were granted amnesty and became U.S. citizens. The same Ronald Reagan whom hardline Republicans like Ted Cruz treat like royalty naturalized three million immigrants, presumably while wearing Reeboks and walking like an Egyptian.
There was one major problem with the 1986 law: The writers assumed their mass amnesty would somehow stop the flow of future immigrants. It didn't. Experts now say the law created an incentive for some sectors of the workforce to recruit more undocumented immigrants, since their previous workers were now legit. And that's why we've progressed from around five million undocumented immigrants in 1986 to over 11 million today. Nobody's arguing that point. What's crucial to remember here is that many Republicans have historically favored immigrant-friendly policies.
The missing Watergate tapes showed Nixon naturalizing 2,000 Cubans.
Five days before 9/11, George W. Bush invited Mexican President Vicente Fox to Congress to give a speech in Spanish setting up future immigrant discussion between the U.S. and Mexico. For all his faults, Bush had a passion for easing the paths of workers who would have been Texans if not for the pesky Rio Grande.
The terrorist attacks tabled the discussion, of course. But Bush was undeterred! In 2007, he threw what was left of his political capital behind a Ted Kennedy / John McCain jam called The Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act. Once again, the law would have provided a path of legalization for immigrants and their kids. And it was shut down in the Senate when more conservative Republicans argued that it didn't provide enough funding for enforcement. Ted Cruz, by the way, help craft Bush's immigration agenda, according to Cruz's former colleagues.
But back to 2016 and who believes what about illegal immigrants. The most businessy, Republicany-sounding entity of all time, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, is super pro-immigrant. At the top of their list of priorities is making visas more accessible. At the bottom of their list is securing American borders. Within the Republican Party itself are conservative Christian groups (including the Catholic Church itself) who support helping undocumented immigrants to the best of their ability.
And let's not forget Jesus' Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, about the necessity of migrant labor.
And it's more than ordinary salt of the earth conservatives who have a vested interest in legalizing millions of immigrants. Party officials from districts with large Hispanic populations have come up with all kinds of creative paths for citizen recruitment, like asking for undocumented immigrants to be able to serve in the military to gain legalization. With all the attention the two GOP frontrunners get on the issue of immigration, pro-reform politicians are overshadowed. For instance, John Kasich suggested that undocumented immigrants should be allowed to stay as long as they haven't broken any laws and they pay some kind of penalty, and Jeb Bush thinks mass deportation "would tear communities apart."
Long story short: Bushes love immigrants.
Sanctuary Cities Are Lawless Hellholes
Sprinkled across America and Canada are locations often called "sanctuary cities," where officials have explicitly or implicitly said they won't investigate the status of their undocumented residents, even the criminal ones. So if you are an undocumented immigrant living in San Francisco or Philadelphia and you happen to have a taste for ganja or DUIs, local police aren't going to go out of their way to get you deported back to Drunkweedistan.
Let's not even get into "Iceland."
Illegal immigrants who have already been caught dealing heroin or murdering people should be fair game for deportation, right? That's why everyone from Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump were pissed when a Mexican man who was previously deported FIVE TIMES shot and killed a bystander in San Francisco in the summer of 2015. Their mutual anger at San Francisco was the first thing Trump and Clinton agreed on since they both ordered the fish at Trump's 2005 wedding.
These places didn't arbitrarily receive the blessing of a Mexican Blue Immigrant Fairy who appeared out of the ether to bestow "SANCTUARY CITY" on their hapless wooden heads. Their community activists and local law enforcement groups advocated for it.
The hunchback lobby remained surprisingly silent.
Why? Imagine doing immigration research and paperwork after every routine traffic stop or panhandling citation of an undocumented person. If it helps, picture the city of Los Angeles emptying its pockets and shrugging when asked why it doesn't start deportation paperwork every time an undocumented immigrant is arrested. Plus, "11 million undocumented residents" is another way of saying "11 million undocumented victims, witnesses, snitches, and neighborhood advocates," and the crime world is a murky place. If you're a detective hunting down a killer, you don't want your witnesses and victims refusing to come forward because they're worried about getting deported.
"But wait!" you might be thinking, "We're starting with 11 million lawbreakers. Some of those illegal immigrants are, statistically speaking, dangerous murderers, like ol' Mr. Five-Time Deported Murderer from earlier."
With a name like that, he was destined for trouble.
That's true, but again, sanctuary cities know that "the crime rate among first-generation immigrants ... is significantly lower than the overall crime rate." They also know that undocumented immigrants in their districts are 70 percent less likely to report themselves as victims when something terrible happens, which ultimately makes life harder for the men and women who are trying to keep their cities safe.
And it turns out the immigrants are right to be scared to death of authority figures. In 2013, President Obama deported 240,000 undocumented immigrants who had zero prior convictions. The same year, he deported 200,000 undocumented immigrants who did have convictions. So if you were an undocumented immigrant minding your own business, doing your job, and staying out of trouble, you were more likely to get booted out of the country than people who broke the law.
"Illegal Immigrants Are Criminals, Killers And Rapists"
If you haven't heard this one, congratulations, you've been living under a Trump-proof rock. It's almost a direct quote from the speech that built The Donald's presidential brand. And while it took Trump's orange-hot rage to make this myth yuge nationwide, it's long been a fixture in politics, especially near the border. Lawmakers have used individual cases of undocumented immigrants terrorizing citizens to increase deportations and look "tough on crime." In Arizona, where cops are legally required to check the immigration status of any detainee whose citizenship is under "reasonable suspicion," senators claim Mexicans have turned Phoenix into a "kidnapping capital."
And it's only a small consolation that victims no longer have to live in Phoenix.
They aren't even close. Phoenix was so adorably off in their kidnapping data that it almost feels mean to bring it up. In 2008, Phoenix claimed they definitely had 358 border-related kidnappings on the books. The mayor testified before Congress that the city's residents were being stolen and tortured every night, probably by drug-affiliated brown people. By the time federal dollars started rolling in to help local law enforcement, Phoenix was up to a whopping 668 kidnappings for 2008. When researchers finally dug deeper into the city's files, they concluded that the accurate number of drug-related kidnappings was closer to 89.
You more likely to end up missing because of the Arizona Death Worm.
In truth, not only do high levels of immigration bring crime rates down, but but undocumented immigrants commit crimes at a far lower rate than native-born Americans. Also, neighborhoods with higher concentrations of immigrants tend to be safer, despite the fact that these same areas are some of the poorest. This holds true for all ethnic groups, but the difference is most pronounced for Mexicans and Central Americans -- the groups most people picture when they think of marauding alien invaders in sleepy border towns. And it's not only that they aren't raping or killing more than Americans do; they are also less likely to shoplift, skip class, or get into fights at school. They have lower rates of substance abuse, and they get better grades. And we've had this data for about 70 years.
The reality is that the crime rate among legal and illegal immigrants increases with each generation born in the United States.
One fact that remains constant: 16-year-olds are assholes.
Immigrants don't bring criminality with them; they grow into it as they become more American. Three out of every four people caught bringing drugs across the border are U.S. citizens. Amazingly, this statistic doesn't find its way into many Trump speeches.
Illegal Immigrants Are Bleeding Us Dry
Depending on who you ask, undocumented immigrants cost the U.S. between $113 billion a year and "all of the money in the world." Think about it: These people and their kids have access to our schools, lunch programs, health care, food, and (most importantly) jails, all without contributing income tax. Without their presence, we'd have way more cash to sling around. $113 billion is a lot of money, even more than what we've spent rebuilding the infrastructure of Afghanistan over the years. Think about what we could do if all that money suddenly reappeared in our coffers.
"The future is now."
The amount of money illegal immigrants drain from the economy versus how much they contribute varies, depending on who you ask. It's not a zero-sum game. The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy estimates that illegal immigrants paid about $11.84 billion in state and local taxes in 2012. How? Through sales taxes, rental fees, their own social security paycheck deductions, and state income taxes, which some undocumented immigrants file.
The Institute also estimates that giving all of these undocumented immigrants a clear path to citizenship would increase tax revenue by an estimated $845 million a year once fully in place, and that's just at the state and local levels. After adding in what would be gained by giving them higher wages and the ability to file income taxes like the rest of us, the number on their net tax contributions goes up to $2.2 billion dollars (remember, that's in addition to the $11 billion they already pay).
"Give us your huddled masses
yearning to breathe free of wasted taxable income."
Remember how the previous amnesty law resulted in a net gain of undocumented immigrants? Surveys from the last round of legalization revealed that the original three million became eligible for higher-paying jobs, and therefore ended up paying more in taxes. One UCLA researcher used those numbers to estimate that another amnesty would potentially add $1.5 trillion to the GDP over 10 years.
Again, depending on who you ask, undocumented immigrants give more than they take. In 2009, employers reported paying $72.8 billion dollars in wages to seven million workers who didn't have legitimate social security numbers. Some of these guys might have been legal citizens who screwed up their digits, but many are presumably undocumented immigrants who were getting docked for benefits they'll never see. Which, if we're being honest, is about as American as it gets.
Most Undocumented Immigrants Are Coming From Mexico
The entire American discourse on immigration revolves around Spanish-speakers from Latin America, and that often gets abbreviated to Mexicans. Politicians, the media, and this article have all focused on Mexicans in this discussion, which is like focusing on Kid Rock and NSYNC when talking about contemporary music.
"Mi nombre es Ninooooooo!"
Mexicans do form the single largest group of undocumented immigrants, but most of those people came to the US in the '90s. From the mid-2000s through to 2014, net migration from Mexico has been zero, or even negative. That means at least as many people are crossing over from the U.S. to Mexico as vice versa. The fact is that there simply aren't as many new Mexicans interested in coming to America. In fact, the number of undocumented Mexicans in the US has dropped by about one million since 2007.
Again, hardliners have an answer: Toothier immigration enforcement has scared people from coming north, and that the returnees are, well, deportees. Others blame the recession. But there's a bigger factor behind all of this: changes happening within Mexico. Mexico's economy has improved and standards of living have gotten a whole lot better, to the point where the country is barely even considered a developing country anymore. Also, Mexican moms are having fewer children, which means that there aren't as many people in the migratory age group who are up for the challenge of a risky border crossing. In another generation or so, there aren't going to be that many Mexicans desperate to get out of Mexico.
"Plus, no way we're going to Phoenix. Haven't you heard about all the kidnappings there?"
There's a bigger issue at stake here. Let's see if you can spot it:
Did you catch it? If so, you've got one up on all of the 2016 presidential candidates. Mexico was the hot star of the undocumented immigration galaxy ten years ago, but today's immigration trends are all about India and China. Indians are the fastest-growing group of undocumented immigrants in the country, registering a 125-percent jump since 2000. African and European illegal immigration is also growing faster than Mexican, but the rhetoric is still all "Mexico" -- which, when fueled by a rage spigot like Donald Trump, results in racially-motivated assaults and a 50 percent increase in anti-Hispanic hate crimes.
A Wall Would Solve The Problem
Say you've read this whole article, but don't give a hoot that all immigrants, no matter how they migrate, make America richer, safer, and more diverse. "So what?" you bray. "They still don't have the right to be here." You wouldn't be alone, and you have a potential president who agrees with you. He's also seemingly found the answer: building a big wall to secure the border. It works in Westeros. It can work here.
Similarly, Mexico also has white walkers to the north.
A wall would help no one.
To begin with, nearly half of all unauthorized immigrants in the country didn't hop the border illegally. They entered the U.S. on legal visas and then overstayed. This number is only going to increase as illegal immigration becomes less Latin American and more Asian, African, and European. We guess we can try to build some cross-ocean walls, but honestly, the technology isn't there yet.
We could maybe build a moat.
Of the half that do jump the border, most -- and an increasing number -- are Central Americans from further south than Mexico. And the U.S. has found an efficient way to nab these poor, huddled masses before they reach our doorstep: outsourcing the job to Mexico. Yes, Mexican authorities receive U.S. funding to apprehend and deport Guatemalans, Hondurans, Nicaraguans, and Salvadorans while in transit.
For the rest, well, there is the border. It's no "beautiful" wall, but it's still the single most militarized border between any two non-warring nations in the world. The past few administrations have all poured huge sums into beefing up a border that is already partially fenced and heavily manned.
We officially don't use drone lasers, but who knows?
Experts say no amount of border security, concrete, or Crows of the Night's Watch would ever be able to stop the most determined of crossers, especially not on the U.S.-Mexico border. If people are desperate enough, there is literally no wall they cannot -- or at least will not try to -- cross. Central American child refugees, or isolated family members trying to reunite with their loved ones, are undeterred by a wall, especially when it is but one more barrier on an already unforgiving journey through brutal terrain.
And when all else fails, there is the sea.
Just ask any of the Cuban refugees Nixon pardoned.
On the other hand, a wall would successfully block a lot of other things -- economic trade, friendly U.S.-Mexican relations, the right to private property, tribal land ownership, and the habitats of a few endangered species. Oh, and Mexican immigrants considering making the trip back home.
Deep inside us all -- behind our political leanings, our moral codes, and our private biases -- there is a cause so colossally stupid that we surprise ourselves with how much we care. Whether it's toilet paper position, fedoras on men, or Oxford commas, we each harbor a preference so powerful we can't help but proselytize to the world. In this episode of the Cracked podcast, guest host Soren Bowie is joined by Cody Johnston, Michael Swaim, and comedian Annie Lederman to discuss the most trivial things we will argue about until the day we die. Get your tickets here!
For more things you probably don't know about immigration, check out So You Want to Be an American: 5 Circles of Immigration Hell and 5 Horrific Experiences I Lived As A Child Refugee.
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