Immigration Myths and Facts

When discussing immigration, you will likely confront certain common misconceptions. Here are some resources for responding to them. You can also download these resources as a PDF.

Myth: Americans want undocumented immigrants to leave. A majority of Americans want mass deportations of undocumented immigrants. The way forward is to deport all the 11 million immigrants who are here illegally.Fact: Americans want change. The majority of Americans want Congress to create an immigration process that includes a pathway to citizenship for aspiring citizens.

  • According to a Fox News poll from June 2013, 76% of voters said it was important to them that immigration reform happens this year and 74% of voters support allowing the 11 million new American immigrants to stay in the country and eventually qualify for citizenship so long as they meet certain requirements.
  • A mass deportation is unrealistic and expensive. The Pew Center for the People and the Press reports that 77% of Americans agree – including 57% who strongly agree – that deporting all aspiring citizens would be unrealistic. A mass deportation would cost billions– over $200 billion by one estimate – translating into nearly $1,000 in new taxes for every person in America.
Myth: We need our jobs back. Immigrants take jobs from Americans and harm the U.S. economy.Fact: Immigrants create jobs for American citizens and are vital to a diverse array of businesses. Bringing immigrants out of the shadows is best for American workers and for the U.S. economy as a whole.

  • CNN reports that immigrants are twice as likely to start businesses as U.S.-born citizens and that immigrants create 28% of all new businesses.
  • A 2012 Brookings Institute study concludes that “on average, immigrant workers increase the opportunities and incomes of Americans.” The report states that “low-skilled immigrant laborers allow U.S.-born farmers, contractors, and craftsmen to expand agricultural production or to build more homes—thereby expanding employment possibilities and incomes for U.S. workers.”
  • A separate study by Madeline Zavodny, a professor of economics at Agnes Scott College, found that 100 immigrants with science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) degrees on average generate 262 jobs for American workers.
  • Immigrant workers are a vital contributing force in our economy. This has been demonstrated in Alabama, where since anti-immigrant legislation was passed and many immigrants left the state, businesses, and particularly farmers, have had trouble finding employees and continuing operations.
  • Most aspiring citizens pay taxes. In fact, according to analysis by the Social Security Administration, immigrants have a positive effect on entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare because they are younger and have more children. According to the 2008 annual report on Social Security, “the taxes paid by ‘other than legal’ immigrants will close 15 percent of the system’s projected long-term deficit.”
  • The Congressional Budget Office evaluated the bipartisan Senate immigration bill, S. 744, and found that it would decrease the deficit by almost $200 billion dollars over a ten year period. The calculations were even more positive over a 20 year period.
  • The Social Security Actuary’s assessment of S. 744 found that it would create 3.22 million jobs and boost the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) by 1.63% by 2024.
  • The NAFSA International Student Economic Value Tool shows that international students enrolled in U.S. institutions contributed $24 billion to the U.S. economy during the 2012-13 academic year. Further analysis shows that 3 jobs are created or supported for every 7 enrolled international students.
Myth: Comprehensive reform won’t work. Congress tried comprehensive immigration reform, and it failed. We need to pass small immigration bills, especially to deal with high-skilled immigrants.Fact: The problem with a piecemeal approach is that no one is willing to wait for a second or third round of negotiations to fix the provisions of interest to them. The concept that immigration legislation must be crafted in a comprehensive manner arises from two realities:

  • First, the various components of the immigration process are uniquely interrelated. Tweaking one part generally affects another part. For example, creating a path to green card status for foreign STEM advance degree graduates requires either increasing the number of employment-based green cards available annually, or taking green cards away from another group of would-be immigrants. Decisions on per-country caps would also be required.
  • Second, different pieces of the process are of primary concern to different constituencies, and it is difficult-to-impossible to put together a coalition to enact a policy to address one issue without satisfying the constituencies whose primary concern is another issue. In the STEM degree example, there have been proposals to eliminate the Diversity Visa lottery program to reallocate the 55,000 green cards to the foreign STEM graduates. Other proposals would end immigration preferences for siblings of citizens and legal permanent residents to make those green cards available based on skills and employment-based needs. At the end of the day, the political calculus is: If your issue gets resolved with my support, how am I to trust that you will be there when I seek support to resolve my issue?
Myth:The DREAM Act is a backdoor amnesty. The DREAM Act will allow dangerous criminals to get legal immigration status. It will only encourage more people to come into the country illegally.Fact: DREAMers are not criminals; and criminals aren’t eligible for legal status under the DREAM Act provisions.These are people who were brought to the country as children and have no other path to legal status. They have been raised as Americans and want to contribute their talent to the American economy and culture. They have done nothing wrong.

  • The DREAM Act has enjoyed widespread bipartisan support.
  • This legislation is not an amnesty. No one will automatically receive a green card. There are stringent requirements, to include background checks, to get a status that can be revoked if they don’t do what they are supposed to do.
  • To apply for legal status under the DREAM Act, individuals have to meet stringent eligibility criteria:
    1. They must have entered the United States before age 15 or 16
      (different versions of the bill vary on the age requirement);
    2. They must have lived in the United States for five years;
    3. They must not have been convicted of any serious crimes;
    4. They must graduate from high school or the equivalent; and
    5. They must complete at least two years of college or military service.
  • Eligible students must first obtain conditional residency and complete the requirements before they can obtain a green card—a process that will take years.
  • Not all immigrants who came as young children will be eligible to legalize because they will not meet some of the extensive requirements. The Migration Policy Institute estimates that “of the 360,000 young people aged 18 to 24 immediately eligible for the conditional status under the DREAM Act, about 50,000” are likely to be eligible for a permanent adjustment of their status.
  • Representative Steve King (R-Iowa) recently suggested that the DREAM Act would legalize DREAMers who smuggle drugs into the United States. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) called King’s comments, “wrong and hateful.” Former House Majority leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) called King’s statements “inexcusable.” Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) pointed out that anyone ever convicted of a serious crime cannot be approved through the DREAM Act in plain contradiction to King’s claim.
  • In conclusion, study after study have shown that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes or be behind bars than the native-born, and high rates of immigration are not associated with higher rates of crime. The DREAM Act is a viable response to a reality that demands a solution.
Myth: Why don’t they just get in line? We don’t need reform. Undocumented immigrants just need to “get in line” like everyone else.Fact: There is no “line” for undocumented immigrants.

  • There are no papers for them to file to get on a path to legal status. We need immigration law to be changed to allow them to get in a line because right now there is no line for them. Opinion surveys of undocumented immigrants indicate that 98 percent would prefer to live and work legally in the United States and would do so if they could.
  • The immigration law was written in 1952. The world has changed dramatically since then. The needs of the United States are quite different today. But the legal means for regularizing status are extremely constricted, relying on family ties and exceptional options such as refugee status and asylum.
  • There are few options to come to the United States to work. The few legal avenues to work in the United States tie the employee to a specific employer, with few options to obtain a green card.
  • Undocumented immigrants already in the United States have virtually no way to legalize their status. If they leave the country to apply for legal status, current immigration law bars them from re-entering the country for three or ten years, depending on how long they were in the country illegally. This means they will be separated from their families – often children and spouses who are U.S. citizens – for up to a decade.
Myth: If we approve undocumented immigrants for legal status, it will just encourage more illegal immigration in the future. Granting citizenship to undocumented immigrants rewards law-breaking.Fact: There are 11 million aspiring citizens living in the United States because our current law makes it nearly impossible for them legalize their status.

  • As this Immigration Policy Center report shows, unauthorized immigration can only be prevented by changing the way we think about our immigration system as a whole.
  • Everyone acknowledges that the country cannot afford to deport 11 million people. The costs, not only of enforcement, but also the costs associated with uprooting 11 million workers and family members out of their businesses and communities would be tremendously devastating to both the immigrants themselves and our national economy as a whole. Politically, that is a completely unrealistic scenario, not to mention the moral and humanitarian concerns that such a scheme would inevitably raise.
  • Proposals for legalization are seeking to strike the balance between penalizing past violations of the law and the economic and social realities of the day. Reasonable penalties are acceptable only so much as they do not undermine our country and her values as a whole.
  • The United States current legal code concerning immigration is grossly outdated and has been an impediment to our expanding economy for decades. The number of visas available, both for employment and familial connections, has not changed since 1990.
  • Outdated laws often prove to be difficult to enforce and impossible to enforce evenly. All law is important but not every law is as important as every other law. The great thing about having a representative deliberate body to write our laws is that such a body is in a unique position to craft new legislation to replace outdated law and correct any shortcomings of that law.
  • Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration expert at Cato Institute, said in an interview with Ben Terris of National Journal, “We didn’t increase the speed limit from 55 to 65 only after we gave everyone who broke the speed limit a ticket. We didn’t end Prohibition only after we locked up every bootlegger.” Frank Sharry, director of America’s Voice, provides a similar illustration: “To me it’s kind of like people who are caught for speeding. If you get caught for speeding in many states, they say ‘okay, you have to pay a fine, take a class, lose your license for a while and you’ll be reinstated.” Similarly, we are asking undocumented immigrants to come forward, register, submit to background checks, pay fines, pay fees, pay taxes, learn English, learn civics, and wait over 13 years for citizenship while we are simultaneously reforming our outdated immigration laws.
  • Although current levels of illegal immigration are minimal to non-existent; increased border security, e-Verify provisions, and visa entry/exit system can work to ensure that future waves of illegal immigration are prevented. Our farms, businesses, and communities recognize the contributions of these immigrants and it is time that our laws do too.
Myth: Border first. We need to secure the border first before tackling immigration reform.Fact: The border is secure and further militarization at the border will threaten freedom of movement for everyone.

  • In 2012, the Pew Research Hispanic Center released a report detailing just how sharply Mexican migration to the United States has dropped. The headline-making report demonstrates that “the net migration flow from Mexico to the United States has stopped and may have reversed, according to a new analysis of government data from both countries.”
  • There are more personnel and monitoring devices at the border than ever before. Today, the U.S. Border Patrol has 20,000 agents, more than twice the number it had in 2004, and nearly 90% of them are positioned at the southwest border with Mexico.
  • According to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) bureau of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the United States deported more people who were in the country in fiscal-year 2011 than ever before – nearly 400,000.
  • The bipartisan Senate immigration bill, S. 744, calls for doubling the number of Border Patrol agents on the southwest border and implementing all kinds of technology used in Afghanistan and Iraq. This militarization of our southwest border, a convenient fiction designed to address political concerns, is a false security that harms border communities by disrupting the legitimate transactions that happen every day at the border. Families and businesses straddle the border and millions of people and dollars traverse the border each year. As Vic Johnson has pointed out, ignoring these realities by only considering the border as a protective barrier restricts freedom of movement and simultaneously damages our relationship with Mexico. Already overwhelmed ports of entry all along the border should not be penalized for the sake of combating a problem that does not currently exist.

Are there misconceptions you are grappling with that do not appear above? E-mail us at: grassroots@nafsa.org.