If you listen to the pundits, politicians and newscasters, you might believe that immigrants are to blame for so much that is wrong in this country. They are called “illegals” and “aliens.” Perhaps it is easier to vilify them that way.
We blame “them” for taking jobs from Americans; for coming here to take welfare; for not paying taxes; for being criminals, for just not getting in line.
However, when I meet them in our community, that is not who I see. In her poem “Human Family” the revered writer and civil rights activist, the late Dr. Angelou Maya, wrote “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.” And as a nation of immigrants, I couldn’t agree more.
There are so many myths around immigrants and immigration. Perhaps by debunking some of these widely held, but false ideas, we can get to the heart of the matter and have a rationale and realistic discussion about solutions, about what needs fixing in a system that is broken.
Myth No. 1: Immigrants take jobs from U.S. workers.
Better education and an aging population have resulted in a decrease in the number of Americans willing to take many jobs. Most immigrants do not compete with the majority of natives for the same jobs because they tend to have different levels of education and work in different occupations. Immigrants usually “complement” the native-born workforce which increases the productivity, and therefore the wages, of natives.
Myth No. 2: Immigrants come here to take welfare.
Immigrants come to work and reunite with family members, not for welfare. Unauthorized immigrants are not eligible for most public benefits, and even legal immigrants are limited in what they can receive. Low-income immigrants are less likely to receive public benefits than are U.S. citizens for many reasons, such as lack of knowledge about eligibility and fear that benefit usage could negatively affect them.
Myth No. 3: Immigrants don’t pay taxes
Undocumented immigrants pay taxes on their property and are subject to sales taxes on what they buy. More than half of them have taxes taken out of their paychecks.
Myth No. 4: Most immigrants are criminals
Foreign nations in the U.S., whether they are naturalized citizens, permanent residents or undocumented immigrants, are incarcerated at a much lower rate than native born Americans. High rates of immigration are not associated with high rates of crime. Being in the United States in violation of immigration laws is a civil violation. It is not a crime.
Myth No. 5: Most immigrants cross the border illegally
Approximately 75 percent of today’s immigrants have legal, immigrant status. Of the 25 percent that are undocumented, 40 percent overstayed their visas.
Myth No. 6: Why don’t undocumented immigrants just get in line?
For most, there simply isn’t a line or enough visas for them, despite the demands and close family ties. The number of immigrants admitted each year was set by Congress in 1990 and don’t reflect the legitimate demands for family unification and changes in workforce needs that have occurred over the last 20 years. For some countries, the wait is almost 20 years.
Many people assume that their family immigrated to the U.S. legally, or did it “the right way.” In most cases, this statement does not reflect the fact that the U.S. immigration system was very different when their families arrived, and that their families might not have been allowed to enter had today’s laws been in effect. In some cases, claiming that a family came “legally” is simply inaccurate―undocumented immigration has been a reality for generations.
It is my hope that we can get it right if we dispel these myths and enter into an honest, dialogue based on what is morally and ethically correct.
Donusia Lipinski, Warrenton
The writer is immigration lawyer with Blue Ridge Immigration Law Center, PLLC, in Warrenton. She can be reached by email at Donusia@BRILC.netDonusia@BRILC.net.