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Opinion, Santa Monica, Columnist, Government

Will Facts Or Immigration Myths Shape New Congress Policies?

Thomas B. Elias, Columnist
Santa Monica Mirror Archives
Thomas B. Elias, Columnist

Posted Aug. 10, 2013, 9:01 am

Tom Elias / Mirror Columnist

Myths will probably not stop Congress from enacting some major changes in immigration policy this year, but half a dozen or so common shibboleths may well shape the changes that emerge.

Here are a few: For every immigrant legalized and able to take a job, one American citizen worker will lose his or hers. Unauthorized immigrants pay almost no taxes, while costing taxpayers many billions of dollars. New immigrants are bad for business. Immigrant workers cause wages to drop, especially unauthorized immigrants. Immigrant workers cause African-American unemployment to rise.

A host of new academic studies now shows every one of these widely-believed statements to be false. And there are reasons why each is untrue.

The most pervasive of these kinds of anti-immigrant claims – often repeated in Congress and on talk radio – relate to taxes. Undocumented immigrants pay far less in taxes than they use in government services, goes the myth, promoted in part by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Immigration Studies, which in 2004 claimed immigrant households cost the federal government $10 billion more than they pay in taxes.

But U.S. Census figures indicate otherwise. Immigrants in California pay roughly $30 billion a year in federal taxes, $5.2 billion in state income taxes and $4.6 billion in sales taxes, while contributing an average of $2,679 to Social Security, about $540 more than the typical household headed by a U.S.-born citizen ( About one-fourth of that tax money comes from the undocumented. With the national cost of illegal immigration estimated by anti-illegal immigrant groups at about $30 billion per year, these figures mean that rather than costing government more than they pay in, immigrants probably pay more than they use in services.

And that doesn’t include any taxes paid by businesses owned by U.S. citizens where Latino immigrants of all types who have arrived since 2000 now spend $310 billion yearly in California alone, or about $1.6 trillion nationally, according to the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia.

What about jobs? Rather than costing Americans work, immigrants actually create more jobs, according to the Immigration Policy Center, another outfit based in Washington. In California alone, 588,763 Latino immigrant-owned businesses employed more than 458,000 persons of all ethnicities.

What’s more, immigration – including unauthorized immigration – tends to drive wages up, not down, according to yet another study, this one completed in 2007 at UC Davis. “Immigration produced a 4 percent real wage increase (after inflation) for the average native worker,” said the study, which covered the years 1990-2004.

How can that be? “Immigrant workers spend their wages in U.S. businesses,” said an Immigration Policy Center summary. “They buy food, clothes, appliances, cars and much more. Businesses respond to the presence of these new workers and consumers by investing in new restaurants, stores and production facilities. Immigrants also are 30 percent more likely than the native-born to start their own businesses. The end result is more jobs and more pay for more workers.”

What about immigrants’ effect on African-Americans? “Cities experiencing the highest rates of immigration tend to have relatively low or average unemployment rates for African-Americans,” Saint Louis University economist Jack Strauss concluded in an analysis of Census findings. “Cities with greater immigration from Latin America experience lower unemployment rates, poverty rates and higher wages among African-Americans.”

This may be counter-intuitive, but it’s probably because Latino newcomers and African-Americans don’t compete for the same jobs. “Native-born workers take higher-paying jobs that require better English-language skills,” said the Immigration Policy Center report.

Never mind that all these conclusions are based either on Census numbers or on peer-reviewed academic research. Facts will not eliminate immigration shibboleths, because they are based largely on emotion and fear.

With all this academic and Census-based information readily available to everyone in Congress, the big question now is whether it will be myths and misinformation or facts that shape new immigration policies that just might emerge later this year.

Post a comment


Aug. 10, 2013, 9:05:02 pm

Greg Flewin said...

What does this have to do with Santa Monica? I can read these same half baked rants on any national based news sites, either liberal or conservative., Is SMM this hard up for editorial content?

Aug. 10, 2013, 9:44:17 am

Zina Josephs said...

Thank you, Tom, for separating facts from fiction on this topic.

Aug. 10, 2013, 1:29:03 pm

Xander Qualls said...

Don’t hyphenate “ly” words … s/b “widely believed.”

Aug. 10, 2013, 2:49:30 pm

Xander Qualls said...

Illegal immigrant job creators? Right. Are you talking about all the huge tax contributing House Cleaning, Lawncare, Construction and Nanny businesses? Why do I think many of those may all be cash-based businesses? Oh,, and by the way, Americans actually used to do those jobs.

Aug. 10, 2013, 3:08:00 pm

Nan Jefferies said...

Shibboleth.” Really? I thought newspapers appealed to “the lowest common denominator” in readership. I don’t believe that word is in the American vernacular. But … from that nonsense … on to the rest of the article, which is complete nonsense. The points might be counterintuitive, it’s stated, and indeed they are, because they’re wrong. CIS has a long history of conducting nonbiased research, and their analysis stands on its own. Anyone interested in fact-based information can visit the CIS site. As to your study from the American Immigration Council, a cursory look at its “leadership roster” indicates from whence funding likely comes for this clearly open borders organization. And, the $30 billion number referenced as payments into federal income taxes makes no distinction between illegal and legal immigrants. A large number of illegal aliens who come into the U.S. by way of illegal border crossings at our Southern Border are Hispanic and non-English speaking, with limited education and skills. That’s just facts. If you think the country is going to pave its way to new economic prosperity on the backs of millions of poor, unskilled and non-English speaking illegal aliens, where can I get some of what you’re smoking? Here are some more facts. In April alone, and just in L.A. County, $54 million was spent on welfare payments to the native-born children of illegal aliens, according to Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich. At this rate, annualized cost is expected to be $650 million. Again, this is just for L.A. County! This includes CalWORKS (welfare) and food stamps, and the food stamps represent 20 percent of all food stamp issuances in the County. Antonovich says, “When you add the $550 million for public safety and nearly $500 million for healthcare, the total cost for illegal immigrants to County taxpayers exceeds $1.6 billion dollars a year.” Don’t try conning your readers into thinking that importing millions of low-end labor is some sort of boon for the economy. It’s not, particularly when the unemployment rate is somewhere between 8.5% and 9.5% (third highest in the country) – the “underemployment rate” is 18% – and in some counties higher, 9.7% in L.A. County, and higher still (33%) in cities in Fresno and Imperial counties. Here are a few more facts: • Historically, 25% of all immigrants settle in California, even though only 12% of the nation's population resides here. • California has one-third of the nation’s welfare recipients. • The size of California’s welfare rolls is disproportionate when you consider the state has – as noted above – only 12 percent of the nation’s population. • When state and federal welfare commitments are combined, California’s $6.67 billion is far and away the most spent of any state. We don’t need to import any more poverty. We’ve got enough already, thank you. Continuing to import millions of illegal workers – and increasing the number of workers who can come legally (as is part of the plan in the Senate immigration bill) – makes no sense when we have so many unemployed.

Aug. 11, 2013, 10:34:57 am

Xander said...

Greg - Did Santa Monica secede from the United States? Immigration impacts everyone in this country. Pull your head out.

Aug. 12, 2013, 7:19:17 am

wollen said...

oh tom...did la raza help you with this ? Where does the poverty + prosperity ? and don't forget...mexico receives approx 30 billion a year from illegal aliens and legal immigrants

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