Undocumented facts undermine immigration debate

As I finish this article on St. Patrick’s Day–a tradition spurred by Irish immigrants in the United States that became so popular that Ireland itself had to catch up– the dust is still settling on news of anti-immigration right-wing presidential candidate Geert Wilders’ loss in the Netherlands. Many in the United States would have been unaware of who Wilders was, if not for a controversial endorsement tweet sent from Rep. Steve King in which he wrote, “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”

The mainstream coverage of immigration in the United States mostly focuses on undocumented immigration, even if there’s more to immigration system than just that issue. While people in good faith can have disagreement over the particulars of immigration reform, widespread untruths have informed an unfortunate number of people’s views on the issue. Allow me to clear a few things up:

Being an undocumented immigrant is not a criminal offense. Around 40% of undocumented immigrants initially entered the country legally. Since 2008, the number of undocumented immigrants in the United States has actually been declining. Roughly ⅔ of undocumented immigrants have lived in the United States for 10 years or more. Further, fears of ‘anchor babies’ are nothing more than unfounded myths.

Undocumented immigrants pay over $12 billion in taxes each year. Undocumented immigrants contribute more in taxes per year than they will receive in public benefits. Undocumented immigrants cannot and do not vote. Nor do they qualify for food stamps. Or Medicaid. Or Social Security. While undocumented immigrant minors have the  Constitutional right to attend public school, three states actually ban undocumented immigrants from attending public universities.

Undocumented immigrants commit fewer crimes per capita than citizens do. Only twelve percent of people living in the United States are immigrants. Immigrants today are learning English faster than European immigrants in the early 1900s did. The percentage of English-speaking Latinos is also expected to drastically increase over the next decade.

Undocumented immigrants do not steal U.S. jobs; low-skilled U.S. workers mostly go into different industries than low-skilled undocumented immigrants do, anyway. Undocumented immigrants play a little role, if any, in determining U.S. workers’ wages or the unemployment rate. Cracking down on immigration would also likely shift over 60% of U.S. fruit production to other countries due to labor shortage. Past attempts have led to large fields of rotting crops with no one willing to pick them.


Photo captured January 28, 2017.

However, for many opponents of immigration, the issue does not revolve around the facts of the matter, so much as their vague sense of what is  taking place. Unfortunately, this acquiescence to individual perception paints a xenophobic, inaccurate, classist, and racialized view of the situation. It is difficult to have productive conversations when the the basic facts about immigration are not widely acknowledged.


In Post Notes, I add some additional thoughts or context to a blog post I’ve previously written. That can be found here.

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  1. Pingback: Post Note: “Voter fraud is fake, but ‘Voter ID’ is popular. Here’s my proposal for Democrats” | McNulty Memo - 맥널티 메모

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