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Some Myths about Immigrants

Mohamed Salih

Immigration continues to be a hot political issue. Cynically some politicians have calculated that the issue is a winner with some voters. So part of their rhetoric degenerated into bashing immigrants whether legal or not. All this added to a lot of misinformation about this important issue that materially affects the lives of many people. This article is intended to dispel some of the many myths about immigrants summarized from many publications and articles authored by scholars who are versed on this subject and spent time studying it.

The first argument is that immigrants will take our jobs. This is the most common argument you hear from those who oppose immigration but it is also the one with the greatest amount of evidence refuting it. It was found by reliable studies that very few citizens lose their jobs to immigrants. Immigrants generally go to those parts of the country where the economy is growing and where there is need for their labor. Studies have also shown that the new immigrants through their wages increase the supply and demand sides of the economy and therefore help expand employment opportunities for everyone. Furthermore immigrants take jobs the citizens do not like to do. In addition many Chambers of Commerce organizations and many industries support reasonable and sustained immigration.

The second argument is that immigrants work for lower wages and thus depress the wages for everyone.

This might be true if the immigrants are competing directly with citizens in some industries. However studies have shown that immigrants likely compete most directly against other immigrants so the effects on less-skilled native-born Americans might be very small or even positive. With the economy now at full employment (only 3.9% unemployment) the supply of workers cannot meet the demand and with the employers competing for workers all wages are slowly creeping up for everyone.

The third argument is that immigrants abuse the welfare system. On this argument it is important to note that most legal immigrants do not have access to many welfare programs for their first five years here with few exceptions and unauthorized immigrants don’t have access at all except for emergency Medicaid help. All immigrants legal or not make large net contributions to Medicare and Social Security, the largest portions of the welfare state, because of their ages and ineligibility for the undocumented ones. Studies have shown that if poor native-born Americans used Medicaid at the same rate and consumed the same value of benefits as poor immigrants, the program would be 42 percent smaller.

The fourth argument is that immigrants are a net fiscal cost. This is related to the welfare argument saying that immigrants consume more in government benefits than they generate in tax revenue. Studies have shown that immigrants have a net-zero impact on government budgets as reported by Benjamin Powell in his book,” The Economics of Immigration”. Although the tax incidence from immigrants is what matters for the fiscal consequences, between 50 percent and 75 percent of undocumented immigrants comply with federal tax law. States, like Wyoming, that rely on consumption or property taxes tend to garner a surplus from taxes paid by undocumented immigrants while those states that rely on income taxes do not. While economists rarely agree on much, immigration has found a rare near-agreement among the profession. The University of Chicago periodically surveys a balanced panel of well-regarded economists on topical issues. In a poll on highly skilled immigration, a whopping 95% of economists who answered thought that the average American would be better off with more immigrants; the other 5% were uncertain. The agreement on low-skilled immigration was less overwhelming, but it was close.

There are more arguments about immigrants and inequality, immigrants’ assimilation and immigrants and crime that I hope to tackle in a future article.

Peace and Blessings,

Wyoming Interfaith Network Peace and Justice team leader,

Carl Carmichael 894 Olympus Drive, Sheridan, WY 82801

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