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Checking 'alternative facts' about immigrants and refugees

New citizens take the oath during a naturalization ceremony.
New citizens take the oath during a naturalization ceremony. (Matthew Hay Brown, Baltimore Sun)

I feel compelled to school some of my fellow Americans on immigration — the subject of two recent columns and a blog post — because of President Donald J. Trump's executive order on travel from seven majority-Muslim countries. Based on emails from readers and tweets from tweeters, there seems to be a lot of bad information — "alternative facts" — feeding the Trump-o-sphere about foreign visitors, workers and refugees.

So consider this a fact-check column. The comments of readers are in italics; they were edited for brevity and clarity. Readers either asked to remain anonymous or did not respond to a request for permission to use their names. My comments follow.

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Muslim-Americans are not the only ones responsible for the post-9/11 deaths of Americans by extremists. The Tsarnaev brothers, the Boston Marathon bombers, were raised Muslim and born in Kyrgyzstan, which means they are not Americans.

Muslim-American extremists have been responsible for a relatively small number of fatalities — 123 — since 9/11, a period when there were some 240,000 murders in the United States. That's according to the latest report on violence by extremists from the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security at the University of North Carolina. As for the brothers Tsarnaev, the reader is semi-correct: The surviving brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, became an American citizen in 2012, one of more than 700,000 people naturalized that year. His older brother, Tamerlan, was a permanent U.S. resident who had applied for citizenship at the time of his death.

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Several of the Muslim-Americans who attempted or carried out attacks were born in Muslim countries, brought here as children and became citizens after immigrating here.

Not true. The shooter in last year's Pulse massacre in Orlando was born in New York. The male shooter in the 2015 San Bernardino massacre was born in Illinois. Between them, they account for about half of the fatalities caused by Muslim-American extremists since 9/11, according to the Triangle Center.

The fact that so many of the terrorists were born of Muslim immigrant families is another reason not to allow them into this country.

This "fact" overstates the situation, in a truly Trumpian way. But I'll play along and say this: There is no way to predict how the children of immigrants will behave, and a ban on people of a particular faith because of the possibility their American-born offspring might commit crimes is not only ludicrous but unconstitutional.

The government gives the outsiders our money so they can live comfortably. I see foreigners living better than some of my friends. It is OK to be nice but things are really getting out of hand. I, for one, am glad that Trump is trying to do something.

Those "foreigners" you see living well probably work their tails off at one or more jobs, or they might be better educated than your friends and part of the American professional class.

As for our government "giving" immigrants anything, please note: Undocumented immigrants are not eligible for any benefits, though many of them pay income taxes and into the Social Security system. (A few years ago, the chief actuary of the Social Security Administration said undocumented immigrants had kept the system from suffering billions of dollars in persistent revenue shortfalls.)

Generally, the United States takes a hard line against adults who want to immigrate here legally but who seem likely to become dependent on the government. Once admitted, legal immigrants are prohibited from applying for benefits until they have resided in the country for five years. (Low-income families with young children can, and do, receive food stamps or infant nutrition benefits before that.) Refugees get some cash assistance to help with their resettlement in the United States, and additional allotments for about eight months after they arrive.

I know our country always lets people in. But when is enough enough?

I don't know. But I know what many economists and demographers say: With the retirement of millions of baby boomers, we need immigrants because without them, we would not have a sufficient workforce to reach higher levels of growth in productivity — certainly not the 4 percent annual rate Trump has promised.

In addition, the United States faces a serious shortage of physicians. As the Association of American Medical Colleges points out, foreign-born medical students by the thousands have finished their training in the United States, and under an immigration program known as Conrad-30, many agreed to serve as primary care doctors in underserved rural and urban areas. So, I know a lot of Americans think the country has too many immigrants, but for a nation facing these kind of challenges, shutting doors and conducting roundups of undocumented workers are losing strategies.

Correction: In my column of Jan. 27, I incorrectly reported that Strong City Baltimore provides financial support to a nonprofit collaborative developing jobs for ex-offenders. In fact, Strong City provides fiscal services to The Chill Station-Root of Jesse.

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