Immigration has always been a hot topic in politics, not only in the USA but pretty much everywhere else around the world, too.
In the past year, though, anti-immigration rhetoric has become increasingly more powerful, as discriminative and racist speech has entered the mainstream narrative. This type of politics is central to Donald Trump’s campaign for US presidency, while an example from abroad includes the (successful) campaign for the UK to leave the European Union, which predominantly focused on the impact high immigration rates have on Britain. What is concerning about such rhetoric, however, is the amount of myths and misconceptions about immigration it relies on in order to attract voters. Here are four of the most common myths we are being told about immigration, debunked by facts:
Immigrants are bringing more crime!
This is a myth ferociously pushed forward by the presumptive Republican Party nominee – Donald Trump – throughout his campaigning speeches, in which he repeatedly has referred to immigrants from Mexico as ‘criminals’ and ‘rapists’. His ‘Immigration reform’ even includes a pledge to build a permanent wall along the USA-Mexico border and force Mexico pay for it. It would be wrong, though, to solely blame Trump for this negative perception of immigrants, as one 2006 study found 73% of Americans to believe that ‘immigration was causally related to more crime’, or in other words – that higher immigration leads to higher crime rates. The same study, conducted by the Migration Policy Institute, however, also found that immigrants are actually three times less likely to commit crimes than the US-born population, according to the imprisonment records. Another study by Thomas J. Miles and Adam B. Cox, conducted in 2014, concluded that stricter immigration enforcement has no impact over crime rates. Similarly, a 2008 report by the Public Policy Institute of California found that there was no significant relation between property crimes in areas with high immigrant population, and a negative relationship with violent crime rates, meaning communities with a higher proportion of immigrants were actually safer!
Immigrants are stealing our jobs and drive down wages!
This is also one of the myths, central to Donald Trump presidency campaign, which is promising employment legislation that will ‘put American workers first’. The situation is not much different in Europe, with the former leader of the UK Independence Party Nigel Farage (who was at the front of the campaign for Britain to leave the EU) making statements that higher immigration harms job prospects of British people. In contradiction to these claims, though, the American Enterprise Institute found that immigrants boost employment for US natives, and that immigration “has no significant effect, either positive or negative, on the employment rate among US natives”. One reason for that was that both groups do not usually compete for the same jobs, and that low-skilled jobs done by immigrants are ‘complimentary’ to high-skilled jobs done by US natives. For example, consider how a nanny enables children’s parents to return to the job market, or how with the number of people increasing, the demand for services also goes up, which results in creating more jobs. In addition, the Brookings Institution noted that economists agree immigration does not tend to cause any significant decrease in wages for the US-born population, and in some cases even results in higher wages and lower prices. As for the UK, a 2015 general election briefing by the Centre for Economic Performance said that there is still no evidence that immigration has a negative effect on jobs, wages or the public services.
Immigrants come here to live on benefits!
Yet another claim that is crucial for Donald Trump’s campaign. And while this has always been a widely discussed and controversial topic, it is important to remember that the situation is far more complex than politicians make it seem. For instance, one 2015 report by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) in the US found that immigrants were more likely to take advantage of the welfare system than natives, with 49% of immigrant households taking part in welfare programs against 30% of households headed by natives. This study, however, has received criticism for exaggerating the actual proportion of immigrants on benefits by choosing to use ‘household’ as a measurement unit. Controversially, this meant that the whole household was classified as ‘using welfare’ if just one of its members took part in a program, including things like receiving subsidized lunches at school. The report further failed to recognise the fact that some households are comprised of both native and immigrant members, and thus did not exclude the cases where US-citizens were the ones on welfare. Another important factor is that immigrants pay more into the economy than they take out, according to an analysis by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that found immigrants make an average positive contribution of $8,274 to the US economy.
What we need to consider:
While immigrants are less likely than natives to commit crimes, it is worth noting that US-born people of immigrant descent can be up to five times more likely to end up in prison compared to their foreign counterparts. The CIS report mentioned above also noted that it is immigrants with lower level of education were more likely to end up using welfare benefits. This does not mean to say that second generation immigrants pose a danger to us or are undeserving of social support, but rather that maybe there is a problem with the integration of minorities that needs to be addressed. Perhaps politicians should focus on that, rather than pretend that closing the borders and diminishing opportunities for migrants would solve the problem?