Immigration: Myths and Facts

In the 2018 election Oregonians handily defeated Proposition 105, a ballot measure designed to rescind Oregon’s status as a sanctuary state for undocumented immigrants, by a margin of 63% to 37%. The initiative was written and pushed onto the ballot by an SPLC-identified hate group called Oregonians for Immigration Reform, with help of Oregon State Rep and OFIR leadership official Mike Nearman – who was just elected to another term. OFIR made its case for 105 using information published by the Social Contract Press, the propaganda arm of the modern anti-immigration movement. 

The Yes on 105 Committee occupied a booth at the Oregon State Fair this year, and handed out two pieces of literature published by by the Social Contract Press: one being a booklet titled “Common Sense on Mass Immigration,” featuring a “caution” sign with the silhouettes of two running adults with a child in tow. The other, a decidedly more menacing booklet is called “The Victims of Illegal Immigration,” and is covered with blood-spatter graphics. 

Together, these two pieces of literature represent the anti-immigration movement’s overall strategy of winning the hearts and minds of voters. First, they appeal to our fears by claiming that immigration presents a physical danger to American citizens, then they follow it up with a clever mix of skewed numbers and myths. Here, we’ll address some of these claims and assess them for accuracy.

Crime
Perhaps the number one myth used to fear monger is the notion that immigrants are dangerous and violent. While campaigning, President Trump claimed that immigrants are criminals and rapists, and he continued to stoke fear, most recently regarding the caravan of Central American migrants currently heading through Mexico. This premise fills the SCP booklet “The Victims of Illegal Immigration,” as it tells the stories of Americans killed by gang members, drunk drivers, and in one case, the 9/11 terrorists.

One simple and irrefutable fact neutralizes the argument that undocumented immigrants are a threat to our physical safety: they commit crime at a far lower rate than native-born citizens. One study by the libertarian Cato Institute concluded: “Illegal immigrants are 47 percent less likely to be incarcerated than natives.” Studies have also shown that as populations of immigrants (documented or otherwise) increase, fewer crimes are committed. A recent study published in the journal Criminology shows “Increased concentrations of undocumented immigrants are associated with statistically significant decreases in violent crime.” 

Walter A. Ewing, a senior researcher at the American Immigration Council and coauthor of a similar study, told PolitiFact, “They are very motivated to not blow that opportunity by getting in trouble with the police. This is especially so for unauthorized immigrants, who can be deported at any time for unlawful presence.”

Disease
The claim that immigrants will invade a country and infect it with a disease is as old as it is prejudiced. Throughout American history, fear of disease has been the go-to attack against immigration. Chinatown in San Francisco was regularly quarantined around the turn of the 20 century over an unfounded fear of the bubonic plague, and tuberculosis was long nicknamed “the Jewish disease.” The Irish were accused of bringing cholera to the U.S. in 1832. John W. Scott, a professor of natural philosophy at Miami University in Oxford, pronounced that cholera was linked to Irish stereotypes: “[Cholera] hunts out with extraordinary precision the abodes of vice, the haunts of intemperance, debauchery and every moral and physical pollution.” 

A particularly insidious section of “Common Sense on Mass Immigration,” written by Wayne Lutton, (google him to be horrified) claims that immigrants are likely to cause outbreaks of Dengue fever, TB, Cholera, and a host of other illnesses. Lutton goes so far as to say that immigrants carry leprosy. 

These claims suffer from a total lack of scientific credibility. “There is no evidence whatsoever that this is so,” begins one quote on PolitiFact by Arthur Caplan, director of the division of medical ethics at New York University’s Langone Medical Center. “No study or survey shows this. There is no outbreak or bump in disease attributable to immigrants.” Furthermore, many Latin countries have better vaccination rates than the United States. For example, Mexico has a 99 percent measles vaccination rate, and Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador are at about 93 percent. With the U.S. at 92 percent, anti-vaxxer parents might pose a bigger threat. 

Entitlements and Taxes
Use of entitlements is a common argument against undocumented immigrants. By some, they are perceived to sneak into the country and immediately start receiving welfare, food stamps, and healthcare. This isn’t true. Undocumented immigrants are not eligible for federal aid programs, including Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, or food stamps. Most documented immigrants aren’t even eligible for federal entitlements until they’ve been in the country for five years.

In 1996, the federal welfare system was overhauled, which allowed states to provide aid for undocumented immigrants if they chose to do so; Oregon did not. Due to Oregon’s Reproductive Health Equity Act of 2017, immigrants that would “otherwise be eligible for medical assistance if not for their immigration status,” can obtain birth control, postpartum medical care for up to 60 days, and abortions. 

While the undocumented are eligible for limited state benefits in some states, they also pay billions of dollars in taxes every year. These numbers are difficult to measure, but the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy have managed some estimates from studying the issue extensively. In 2015, they estimated that undocumented immigrants paid 23.6 billion in income taxes. The ITEP also estimates that the undocumented pay approximately 11.7 billion on state and local taxes yearly. 

Undocumented immigrants also contribute billions into federal benefit programs that they’ll likely never be eligible to use. The Social Security Administration conducted a review of the undocumented effect on the program and found it to be a net positive to the tune of 12 billion dollars in the year studied, and estimated that this number would grow yearly. 

It is estimated that about half of all undocumented immigrants in the U.S. pay taxes. You may be asking, “How is it that undocumented immigrant’s pay taxes without a Social Security number?” In 1996, the IRS created the Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, (ITIN) to help unauthorized workers to pay taxes. This helps them to create a paper trail, and many believe that paying taxes regularly will help them to gain legal citizenship if the U.S. eventually passes immigration reform. 

Terrorism
In January 2018, the DOJ and the Department of Homeland Security released a report that claimed about 75 percent of convicted terrorists since 9/11 have been foreign-born. Former officials and security experts that have served under both Democratic and GOP administrations have spoken out against the report, saying it contains “misleading statements and omissions.” President Trump has also hinted that Muslim terrorists have been traveling with the migrant caravan heading north from Central America. There is no factual basis whatsoever for this claim, and just to keep it real, was probably a lie to scare people into voting Republican.

The reality is, in recent years, months, and even days, domestic terrorism has become much more of a threat to American security than international terrorism. Instead of responding to domestic terrorism, in 2017 the Trump administration cut millions of federal funding from groups countering right-wing extremism, including from Life After Hate, a group that rehabilitates neo-Nazis, turning them into anti-neo-Nazi activists. 

In 2009, the Department of Homeland Security released a report titled “Right-wing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment,” detailing how the recession and the election of an African American president was fueling recruitment for domestic terrorist organizations. The report was lambasted by the right wing media and blogosphere as being politically motivated, leading to a backpedaling by the DHS. From 2008 to 2016, right-wing terrorists were responsible for almost twice the successful domestic terror attacks than Islamists and left-wingers combined. 

New America policy analyst David Sterman co-authored a study with Peter Bergen that concluded: “Every jihadist who conducted a lethal attack inside the United States since 9/11 was a citizen or legal resident. In addition about a quarter of the extremists are converted, further confirming that the challenge cannot be reduced to one of immigration.” 

While Prop 105 has failed, the national debate on immigration rages on. President Trump relied heavily on his immigration stance to get elected, and by telling outright lies about the migrant caravan, likely had a dramatic influence on the 2018 midterms. Personally, you might be heading to some holiday dinners and sitting next to a drunk and racist uncle who may be parroting some of these immigration misnomers. Now you have the ammunition to stand up to him, so use it well.

By Jay Sharpe