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Myths Surrounding Immigration

At Catholic Charities, we often receive calls regarding our contract with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to be the receiving agency for specific groups of refugees arriving in the Twin Cities. There exists much misinformation about the difference between refugees and immigrants, the refugee process and the effect refugees and immigrants have in our community.

Immigrants are people from any country who freely choose to come to the U.S. for any number of reasons, including the desire to seek a better life. In contrast, refugees must leave their countries for reasons of personal safety. They must apply to the State Department to gain admittance. Currently, Catholic Charities' resettlement programs assist only refugees.

Here are some of the misconceptions we hear about refugees, and the truths about them.

Local Myths

  1. Catholic Charities “invites” certain groups to come to the Twin Cities.
    Actually, the President and the State Department of the federal government determine which groups will be resettled in the U.S. as refugees; Catholic Charities is merely one of seven local agencies that meets and assists refugees who come to the Twin Cities. We meet them at the airport, guide them through the entry process and reunite them with their waiting families.
  2. Refugees come to Minnesota for jobs.
    While refugees value the opportunity to find work in Minnesota, that is not the primary reason they come here. Unlike immigrants, refugees have left their home countries for reasons of personal safety, and many families are separated in the process. Every refugee currently being resettled by Catholic Charities comes here to reunite with his or her family – no refugee comes here alone, without connections.
  3. Refugees get a free ride.
    While refugees are eligible to apply for help from public assistance programs, our federal government and the agencies that assist refugees place high priority on helping them become self-sufficient as soon as possible. In addition, refugees are expected to repay the cost of the airfare incurred in their traveling here from the refugee camps.
  4. Refugees don’t pay taxes for seven years.
    Absolutely false. Every refugee working in the State of Minnesota is required to pay city, state and federal taxes, the same as any other resident.
  5. Refugees are given a car and free rent.
    Again, completely false. If a relative, a church group or other kind-hearted association decides to help a refugee family, that is very admirable, but there are no standard benefits relating to cars and houses offered freely to refugees.

Universal Myths
Catholic Charities receives many questions about immigrants. The biggest fear is that immigrants are a drain on our economy. The fact is, collectively, immigrants to America earn $240 billion a year, pay $90 billion a year in taxes and receive only $5 billion in welfare.

Unfortunately, even larger myths regarding immigration exist. The following are excerpts from the web site of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. For more information, please visit them at www.aila.org.

Myth Number 1: Immigrants take jobs away from Americans.
It is not true that immigrants take jobs away from Americans. Here’s why:

  • Immigrants do not increase unemployment among natives. A recent study by economists reported that it is likely immigration opens up many job opportunities for natives by 1) expanding the demand for goods and services through their consumption; 2) contributing to output through the investment of savings they bring with them; 3) demonstrating high rates of entrepreneurship, which may lead to the creation of new jobs for U.S. workers; 4) filling vital niches in the low and high skilled ends of the labor market, thus creating subsidiary job opportunities for Americans; and 5) contributing to economies of scale in production and the growth of markets.
  • There is no such thing as a fixed number of jobs. Contrary to the belief that an increasing number of people compete for a static number of jobs, in fact, the number of jobs in America has increased by 15 million between 1990 and 2003, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (U.S. Department of Labor). Between 2000 and 2010, more than 33 million new job openings will be created in the United States that require only little or moderate training, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This will represent 58 percent of all new job openings.

Myth Number 2: Most immigrants are a drain on the U.S. economy.
Here’s the truth about immigrants, taxes and the economy:

  • All individuals who work in the United States are required to pay federal income taxes. The only exception is if they are exempted due to their level of earnings, a provision of the tax code that results in no taxes, or a bilateral tax treaty.
  • Significant total taxes are paid by immigrants. Immigrant households paid an estimated $133 billion in direct taxes to federal, state, and local governments in 1997, according to a study by Cato Institute economist Steve Moore.
  • Overall economic benefits of immigration. The report by the National Academy of Sciences found that immigrants benefit the U.S. economy overall, have little negative effect on the income and job opportunities of most native-born Americans, and may add as much as $10 billion to the economy each year. As a result, the report concluded, most Americans enjoy a healthier economy because of the increased supply of labor and lower prices resulting from immigration.
  • Economists agree on immigration’s benefits. In a poll of eminent economists conducted by the Cato Institute in the mid-1980s and updated in 1990, 81 percent of the respondents opined that, on balance, twentieth-century immigration has had a “very favorable” effect on U.S. economic growth. Moreover, 56 percent of the economists polled believed that more immigration would have the most favorable impact on the U.S. standard of living, while another 33 percent felt that the current levels of immigration would have the most favorable impact.

Myth Number 3: America is being overrun by immigrants.
Here are the facts on immigration statistics:

  • The number of immigrants living in the United States remains relatively small as a percentage of the total population. While the percentage of U.S. residents who are foreign-born is higher today than it was in 1970 (currently about 11 percent), it is still less than the 14.7 percent who were foreign-born in 1910.
  • The annual rate of legal immigration is low by historical measures. Only 3 legal immigrants per 1,000 U.S. residents enter the United States each year, compared to 13 immigrants per 1,000 in 1913.
  • The 2000 Census found that 22 percent of U.S. counties lost population between 1990 and 2000. Rather than “overrunning” America, immigrants tend to help revitalize demographically declining areas of the country, most notably urban centers.

Myth Number 4: Immigrants aren’t really interested in becoming part of American society.
Here’s information about immigrants’ feelings about the country and the future:

  • Immigrants are more optimistic about the nation’s future. A poll of Hispanics finds they are far more optimistic about life in the United States and their children’s prospects than are non-Latinos, according to an August 2003 New York Times/CBS News poll.
  • Immigrants believe in the American Dream. A CNN/USA Today poll reported that more immigrants than natives believe that hard work and determination are the keys to success in America, and that fewer immigrants than natives believe that immigrants should be encouraged to “maintain their own culture more strongly.”
  • Immigrant children learn English. In San Diego 90 percent of second-generation immigrant children speak English well or very well, according to a Johns Hopkins University study. In Miami the figure is 99 percent.
  • Immigrants want to become proficient in English. Reports from throughout the United States indicate that the demand for classes in English as a second language far outstrips supply. Data from fiscal year 2000 indicate that 65 percent of immigrants over the age of five who speak a language other than English at home speak English “very well” or “well.” The children of immigrants, although bilingual, prefer English to their native tongue at astounding rates. In fact, the grandparents and parents of immigrant children have expressed some concern that their youngsters are assimilating too quickly.
  • Immigrants learn English. Only 3 percent of long-term immigrants report not speaking English well, according the National Academy of Sciences.

Myth Number 5: Immigrants contribute little to American society.
The facts show that immigrants contribute significantly to America:

  • Immigrants show positive characteristics. A Manhattan Institute report showed that immigrants are more likely than are the native born to have intact families and a college degree and be employed, and they are no more likely to commit crimes.
  • High levels of education for legal immigrants. According to the New Immigrant Survey, which measures only legal immigrants, the median years of schooling for the legal immigrants, 13 years, is a full one year higher than that of the U.S. native-born.
  • Immigrants help with the retirement of the baby boomer generation. While countries in Europe and elsewhere will experience a shrinking pool of available workers, the United States, due to its openness to immigration, will continue healthy growth in its labor force and will reap the benefits of that growth. Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan has stated, “Immigration, if we choose to expand it, could prove an even more potent antidote for slowing growth in the working-age population.”
  • Immigrants contribute to entrepreneurship. Inc. Magazine reported in 1995 that 12 percent of the Inc. 500—the fastest growing corporations in America—were companies started by immigrants.

    Our understanding of the meaning of American patriotism would not be complete without considering the pride and commitment immigrants demonstrate on behalf of the United States.

According to the U.S. Department of Defense:

  • More than 60,000 immigrants serve on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces.
  • Immigrants make up nearly 5 percent of all enlisted personnel on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces.
  • Nearly 7 percent of U.S. Navy enlisted personnel are immigrants.
  • More than 20 percent of the recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor in U.S. wars have been immigrants; a total of 716 of the 3,406 Medal of Honor recipients have been immigrants.

In sum, who are these people we call immigrants? They could be your parents, your grandparents, your teachers, your friends, your doctors, your policemen, your grocer, your waiter, your cook, your babysitter, your gardener, your lawyer, your favorite actor, actress, or sports hero, your shopkeeper. Immigrants permeate the fabric of America. They are an integral part of our society, its goals and its values. The backbone that helps make this country great, they set us apart from every nation in this world. In short, they are us.

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