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< Back to current issue of Immigration Daily

Exploding Myths About Illegal Aliens

by Thomas W. Roach

EXPLODING MYTHS ABOUT ILLEGAL ALIENS

The immigration debate is raging in America. There are an estimated 11 million illegal aliens in the U.S. and the proposals regarding what to do about them run the entire spectrum from "throw them all out" to "give them all Green Cards".

There are many myths regarding who immigrates to the U.S. and why.

After practicing immigration law for 27 years in the Tri-City area, I may have some insight into the issues surrounding those in undocumented status in the U.S. since most of my practice over the years has involved Mexican farm workers. Estimates indicate that probably 60% of the 11 million illegal aliens are from Mexico. In a 3-part series I will discuss the 15 most common myths about undocumented immigrants.

MYTH #1. ILLEGAL ALIENS TAKE AMERICAN JOBS.

Not so. For the most part, illegal aliens work jobs Americans simply do not want. Those jobs include farm workers, janitors, chambermaids, busboys, dishwashers, gardeners, nannies and household domestics. Those are not the careers Americans seek. The jobs Mexicans perform in the U.S. are usually minimum wage with no benefits. They do the lousy, back-breaking work Americans can but refuse to do.

MYTH #2. ILLEGAL ALIENS DON'T PAY TAXES

Not True. The majority of illegal aliens pay the exact same taxes you and I pay. Most illegal aliens work for employers who don't know they are illegal or, possibly suspect they may be illegal, but don't want to know for sure.

As a result, the typical employer of an undocumented worker deducts all the federal income and other taxes from all his employees - legal and illegal alike.

MYTH #3. ILLEGAL ALIENS DON'T LEARN ENGLISH OR ASSIMILATE.

Yes and No. The typical Mexican who grew up in Mexico attended school there for only 3 to 6 years. As a result, most of the older Mexicans who are here only speak their native language at a basic level. As a result, it is tremendously difficult for many of those adults to learn fluent English.

The children of those older immigrants, however, go to school in the U.S., are immersed in English-speaking American culture and virtually all speak English. Those second-generation Mexicans speak English and assimilate into U.S. culture the same way the Irish, Italians, Japanese and every other group of new immigrants have.

MYTH #4. ILLEGAL ALIENS DON'T CONTRIBUTE TO THE U.S. ECONOMY; THEY JUST COME HERE TO GET ON WELFARE.

Not even close. Illegal aliens contribute immensely to the U.S. economy. They work hard and perform the essential jobs that are vital to keeping the U.S. economy moving forward. They pay taxes and consume goods-from cars and gas to groceries and houses - and buy services which, in turn, benefits those U.S. citizens selling those goods and services.

As for illegal aliens signing up for welfare, U.S. law strictly prohibits those here illegally from obtaining welfare, food stamps or any other type of public assistance.

MYTH #5. ILLEGAL ALIENS CAN AND SHOULD APPLY TO LEGALLY COME IN TO WORK IN THE U.S.

Great idea, except it just happens to be impossible. The present system for employment-based immigration allows only 5,000 low-skill Green Cards per year for the entire United States.

The solution to our immigration dilemma will only come from comprehensive immigration reform. That reform must include 4 parts: 1) Secure the southern border, 2) Allow those here to apply for earned legalization, 3) Require all employers to verify the immigration status of their employees, and 4) Allow some flexible number of low-skill Green Cards in the future in light of the needs of the U.S. economy.

MYTH #6. ILLEGAL ALIENS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR A DISPROPORTIONATE PERCENTAGE OF CRIME.

Not true. Numerous reputable studies have shown that the problem of crime in the United States is not caused or even aggravated by immigrants, regardless of their legal status. Over the past few years, when someone is arrested the first question they are asked by the police after their name and address is, "Where were you born?" If the answer to that question is not "U.S.A." the Border Patrol is automatically contacted and the person, if undocumented, is immediately placed into the deportation process. As a result, undocumented individuals have a very high incentive to not break the law.

MYTH #7. ILLEGAL ALIENS ABUSE THE HEALTH CARE SYSTEM.

Not so. The general rule is that those who are here in undocumented status are not entitled to any taxpayer funded health care. The exception to that rule is that those here illegally can get emergency medical treatment. A recent RAND corporation study states as follows: "The foreign-born (especially the undocumented) use disproportionately fewer medical services and contribute less to health care costs in relation to their population share."

MYTH #8. ILLEGAL ALIENS CAN AND SHOULD BE FERRETED OUT AND DEPORTED FROM THE U.S.

Not likely. The estimated 11 million undocumented individuals in the U.S. is equivalent to the entire populations of Washington, Oregon and Idaho combined. It would be impossible to locate and deport that many people. Besides, millions of those adults unlawfully here have an estimated 4 million U.S. citizen children who the government would be required to find foster parents for if their parents were deported. Finally, if a magic wand was waved and all undocumented workers were gone tomorrow, it is highly unlikely that native-born Americans would do the lousy, back-breaking agricultural and other minimum wage/no benefits work that the undocumented do in the U.S. economy.

MYTH #9. THE ILLEGAL ALIEN PROBLEM WOULD BE FIXED IF WE JUST COMPLETED THE FENCE ALONG THE SOUTHERN BORDER.

No even close. For every 15-foot fence there is a 16-foot ladder or a shovel that can dig underneath it. Besides, 40% of those undocumented in the U.S.-about 4.4 million-entered legally and overstayed their visas. The fence may help but it alone will not solve our immigration situation.

MYTH #10. THE PROPOSED IMMIGRATION REFORMS IN CONGRESS ARE JUST ANOTHER 'AMNESTY'.

No. Amnesty is defined as "Forgiveness without penalty." All of the immigration reform proposals require payment of a fine (maybe $1000), learning some English, paying all back taxes (if any are owed) and going to the back of the line before obtaining Legal Permanent Residence status.

The solution to our immigration dilemma will only come from comprehensive immigration reform. That reform must include 4 parts: 1) Secure the southern border, 2) Allow those here to apply for earned legalization, 3) Require all employers to verify the immigration status of their employees, and 4) Allow some flexible number of low-skill Green Cards in the future in light of the needs of the U.S. economy.

MYTH #11. AMERICANS DON'T SUPPORT IMMIGRATION REFORM.

Not true. When Americans are asked the question, "Do you support a legalization program that would allow those in the U.S. illegally to obtain legal status if they could meet the following requirements: a strong work history, no serious criminal convictions, no deportations, learn some English, pay all back taxes, pay a fine and go to the back of the immigration line," numerous polls have shown that 60 to 70% of likely voters are in favor of such a solution to our immigration situation.

MYTH #12. DENYING ILLEGAL ALIENS DRIVER'S LICENSES WILL HELP SOLVE THE IMMIGRATION PROBLEM.

That's crazy. The overwhelming reason why the undocumented are here is to work. Almost all workers in America need to drive to get to work. Workers, especially farm workers, typically must travel long distances to get to and from work. From the point of view of the public safety of U.S. citizens, it is much better if everyone driving on the highways has completed a driver's course and has qualified for a driver's license.

MYTH #13. IF EVERY EMPLOYER WAS REQUIRED TO VERIFY THE SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER OF EVERY EMPLOYEE, WE COULD SOLVE OUR ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION SITUATION.

Well, yes, sort of. A mandatory social security verification system is a good idea but only if there is an earned legalization program put in place simultaneously. Under current circumstances, requiring social security verification without earned legalization would create chaos in many sectors of the U.S. economy. It is estimated that 50-60% of farm workers are undocumented and the percentage of undocumented workers in many other low-skill, minimum-wage, no benefits jobs-such as dishwashers, gardeners, dairy workers, janitors, chambermaids-is also very high.

MYTH #14. A LAW LIKE THE NEW LAW IN ARIZONA WOULD SOLVE OUR IMMIGRATION SITUATION.

No way. The Arizona law is an over reaction and can best be compared to how we over reacted in 1942 when the U.S. government placed all west coast Japanese in internment camps. Thirty percent of Arizona's citizens-over 2 million people-are Hispanic and legal. The Arizona law is vague and invites discrimination against them.

MYTH #15. THOSE PEOPLE WHO ARE UPSET ABOUT THE CURRENT IMMIGRATION SITUATION ARE RACISTS.

Not even close. Of course, some racism does exist in this debate. But, for the most part, the American public is frustrated and angry that our elected officials prefer to play "gotcha" politics with this difficult and controversial issue rather than addressing it in a mature, common sense manner. Most Americans recognize that most of the people here illegally are working hard at low-end jobs and they believe the politicians should find some rational solution to this very contentious matter.

The solution to our immigration dilemma will only come from comprehensive immigration reform. That reform must include 4 parts: 1) Secure the southern border, 2) Allow those here to apply for earned legalization, 3) Require all employers to verify the immigration status of their employees, and 4) Allow some flexible number of low-skill Green Cards in the future in light of the needs of the U.S. economy.


About The Author

Thomas W. Roach practices immigration law in Pasco, Washington. His practice primarily involves family-based immigration, although he does a considerable amount of R-1, K-1 and medical doctor immigration as well. He graduated from Seattle University in 1971, the University of San Francisco School of Law in 1975 and received a Masters in International Affairs from the Columbia University School of International Affairs in 1982. He first became interested in immigration law when he spent the year after completing college traveling by himself through Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. His first experience with immigration law was doing immigration case work as a Legislative Assistant to Senator Mike Gravel (Alaska) from 1977 to 1980 in Washington D.C.


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