Immigration Reform 2013: 3 Enduring Myths That Could Kill the Bill


It’s do or die time on the president’s immigration reform proposal. 

With the so-called “Gang of 8” in the Senate finishing up prep work on the bill that will come before Congress within the next several weeks, we know the broad strokes of what it will entail. To a certain extent, it’s looking like 2007, redux: a guest worker program, a pathway to citizenship, penalties for entering illegally, undocumented folks step to the back of the line.

That bill died at the hands of Senate Republicans who — pressured by conservative media figures like Lou Dobbs, Rush Limbaugh, and Michael Savage — balked at the idea of “amnesty.” Six years later, it’s unclear whether this will be same song, second verse, with the same erroneous arguments from the same quarters killing any chance of a solution.

With the same old arguments flying about, here are three ways to rebut the three favs, straight out of ’07.

1. Undocumented immigrants steal American jobs. This argument is the one that’s probably made the most to working class whites and people of color. Sometimes, it’s even targeted at other immigrants.

It’s clear, though, that higher populations of undocumented immigrants do not have a high correlation with higher rates of unemployment. So, for example, Texas both has a low unemployment rate for its legal residents, and a high population of undocumented residents, while Mississippi has a high unemployment rate and a very low population of undocumented residents. Moreover, there’s evidence that higher rates of migration have contributed to the acceleration of job creation and of increases in productivity in the past, for undocumented workers and citizens in the labor force. 

2. Undocumented immigrants are especially prone to illegal behavior. Lou Dobbs’ and Bill O’Reilly’s favorite. Gangs, drug smuggling, shooting up people in the streets of Arizona, etc., etc. The argument draws on the “evidence” that undocumented folks represent a disproportionately large number of people arrested and put in jail, and that this contributes to an overall rise in crime for communities. 

When we look at the number of undocumented individuals behind bars, though, we find it’s pretty much in accordance with the overall incarceration rate of the country, with 0.7% for the whole country and 0.7% for foreign born Mexicans, who comprise the majority of the undocumented migrant population in the U.S.

Why then, do a large number of Americans have a perception of immigrants as especially prone to crime? One theory: something called “minority threat perspective.” In other words, a lot of people think brown folks are scary. Take, for example, talk radio’s warm, fuzzy embrace of “illegal aliens” who satisfy the whiteness requirement. Not exactly putting up electrified fences to keep out blonde, white Germans.

3. Undocumented immigrants are bankrupting the country by overusing social services such as health care and education. The “government teat” argument, whereby the “47 percent” becomes an even larger vortex of dependency (an even 50 percent, with the addition of 11.5 million extra takers). 

In truth, immigrants are much less likely to draw on public expenditures for health care, and have health care costs that run much lower than U.S.-born citizens. And, with regard to education, even figures coming from anti-immigrant sources show that education expenditures on undocumented students (which total around $44.5 billion per year) pale in comparison to the potential tax revenues that could come from these students through their lifetimes (between $1.4 trillion and $3.6 trillion).

There’s also, courtesy of our friend, Mr. Dobbs, all three arguments, in 6, jam-packed minutes of award-winning “journalism,” circa 2007, to which you can easily field the rebuttals above, or go with the far more concise and compelling, human argument (should you agree with the highly controversial idea that wrenching children away their families isn’t good for the country).