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A misguided view of immigrants

Donald Trump's immigration proposal — deporting the country's estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants en masse, by force if necessary, then building a thousand mile wall along the U.S. border with Mexico to prevent their return — clearly caters to the unfounded fears of tea party conservatives regarding immigrants. Never mind that the antediluvian plan would be prohibitively expensive and turn the U.S. into a virtual police state; it is based almost entirely on false or misleading information.

His competitors for the GOP presidential nomination would do well to stop parsing it for pieces they like, and educate themselves on the facts before offering their own proposals, rather than pandering to the lowest conservative denominator.

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Border wall supporters claim immigrants are a free-loading drain on the economy. Yet the American Immigration Council reports that immigrants actually pay between $90 million and $140 billion a year in federal, state and local taxes, and that even those who are undocumented contribute billions of dollars a year to the nation's coffers despite the fact that their tax receipts can't be matched to the workers' names or Social Security numbers.

Moreover, a 1997 study of immigration's impact on the U.S. iconology by the American Civil Liberties Union found that undocumented immigrants actually contribute far more in taxes than they use in social services such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, SSI, Medicaid the State Children's Health Insurance Program. That's despite the fact most non-citizens aren't even eligible to receive welfare benefits until they've been legal permanent residents for at least five years. Other studies have shown that immigrants on average use less than half the dollar amount of health services as the average native-born citizen and visit hospital emergency rooms at lower rates as well.

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The conservative claim that undocumented immigrants take jobs and opportunities away from U.S. citizens is also flawed. The low-skilled, low-paying work often performed by undocumented immigrants — especially in agriculture and the service industries — are for the most part jobs Americans don't want. And immigrants don't pull down the wages of higher-skilled American workers. A 2007 report by the President's Council of Economic Advisors found that "immigrants not only help fuel the nation's economic growth, but also have an overall positive effect on the American economy as a whole and on the income of native-born American workers." According to the ACLU, one key finding of the report was that immigrant workers generally tend to complement native-born workers — not substitute for them.

Then there's the widely circulated (and fervently believed) charge that immigrants don't want to learn English or adopt American values. Yet the American Immigration Council reports that within a decade of their arrival, more than 75 percent of immigrants learn to speak English well and that the demand for adult English classes far exceeds supply. The fact is the vast majority of undocumented immigrants recognize they need to learn English in order to succeed in the U.S. and they are even more eager for their children to master the language. According to one early study of English language use in immigrant households "the linguistic outcomes for the third generation — the grandchildren — of the present wave of immigrants will be little different than what has been the age-old pattern in American immigration history."

As the for idea that immigrants don't want to assimilate in the broader American society, the Pew Hispanic Center found that the proportion of eligible immigrants who became citizens as long ago as 2005 exceeded 50 percent, which it called "the highest level in a quarter of a century."

Perhaps the cruelest misconception regarding immigrants is that they bring crime and violence to U.S. communities — the source of Mr. Trump's hateful characterization of Mexicans as "people that have lots of problems... They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists." In fact, immigrants are significantly less likely to commit crimes than their native-born counterparts, according to the ACLU, which cited a 2000 Justice Department report showing that crime rates in immigrant neighborhoods remain low "even when faced with adverse social conditions such as low income and low levels of education." A 1990 National Bureau of Economic Research study found that newly arrived immigrants, in particular, are almost never involved in serious criminal acts.

Hispanics are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. electorate; the GOP should remember that as it tries to win back the White House in 2016.

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