Top Ten Immigration Myths and Facts

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Top Ten Immigration Myths and Facts


By: National Immigration Forum

Date: June 2003

Source: "Top Ten Immigration Myths and Facts." National Immigration Forum, 2003.

About the Author: The National Immigration Forum was established in 1982 with the mission of building public support in the United States for policies that welcome immigrants and refugees. It works closely with immigration support groups, advocacy organizations, and service providers across the United States and has been influential in helping to shape U.S. immigration policies.


The National Immigration Forum (NIF) is an interest group that lobbies in support of pro-immigration policies. It regularly publishes pamphlets that provide information on the benefits of immigration to the United States, to encourage public support for its cause.

The National Immigration Forum was founded by Rick Swartz, a civil rights attorney and head of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. It was established in order to oppose proposed new immigration laws that included employer sanctions for hiring undocumented workers, and to lobby against the anti-immigration lobby led by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). Funded from 1983 largely by the Ford Foundation, the National Immigration Forum created a powerful coalition of both right-wing and left-wing organizations who were against restrictive immigration reform. These included the business community, who were concerned about the impact on employers of restricting the availability of migrant labor, immigrant and ethnic community groups, the Catholic Church, and other church organizations that opposed the legislation on human rights grounds and in the interests of their own members.

The Forum lobbied successfully throughout the 1980s and 1990s in preventing the introduction of laws that would have reduced legal immigration to the United States. It played a key role in eliciting support for the provisions of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), which provided amnesty for several million undocumented immigrants, and in watering down the employer sanctions so that they were difficult to enforce. As a result of its efforts, it has been reported, the Immigration Act of 1990, originally intended to control immigration, ultimately had the effect of increasing levels of legal immigration to the United States by around forty percent. The Forum has also been attributed with achieving the removal of all proposed controls on legal immigration from the 1996 Illegal Immigrant Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA).

Both the anti-immigration lobby and the pro-immigration lobby have increasingly drawn on the work of economists and researchers to provide data and information to support their respective policy perspectives. FAIR helped to establish the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) in 1985, a think tank generating studies in support of restricting immigration, while the NIF has worked closely with the CATO institute, a research organization that shares its pro-immigration stance. The publications that have been produced in support of each perspective have been increasingly targeted at undermining the opposing evidence. For example, in 1995 the National Immigration Forum and the CATO Institute jointly produced a report entitled "Immigration: The Demographic and Economic Facts," which highlighted the positive economic benefits of immigration. The Federation for American Immigration Reform quickly responded with publications that opposed the NIF report's findings, and highlighted the costs to U.S. citizens of immigration, particularly undocumented (illegal) immigration.


            Top 10 Immigration Myths and Facts

                 (See next page.)

Prepared by the National Immigration Forum, June 2003


The National Immigration Forum's 2003 pamphlet provides useful information and data that can help to inform the immigration debate. However, it should be regarded as a partial rather than a comprehensive overview of the costs and benefits of immigration because the topics, wording, and statistics have been carefully chosen with the specific objective of advancing the pro-immigration argument. Similarly, publications produced by the anti-immigration lobby should be considered in the same light.

The "Myths and Benefits" pamphlet focuses on the general characteristics of immigrants and the contributions they make to the U.S. economy. However, much less is known about the costs and benefits of undocumented migration, and it is this aspect of immigration that has become of particular public concern and led to proposals for immigration reform in the mid 2000s. On the other hand, the publication list of the Federation for American Immigration Reform is heavily focused on the problems of illegal migration. Less attention has been given in the studies of the anti-immigration lobby to investigating the positive impacts that immigrants have had on the American economy and society.

American immigration reform has been heavily influenced over the past few decades by the lobbying of pressure groups, particularly the pro-immigration lobby, which includes many influential business leaders. However, as levels of undocumented migration to the United States continue to rise, and the issue receives a high level of media attention, the anti-immigration lobby is gaining public support. In this context, it may become increasingly difficult for the National Immigration Forum to influence the outcome of future legislation so that levels of immigration to the United States are not further restricted.

1. Immigrants don't pay taxesAll immigrants pay taxes, whether income, property, sales, or other. As far as income tax payments go, sources vary in their accounts, but a range of studies find that immigrants pay between $90 and $140 billion a year in federal, state, and local taxes. Even undocumented immigrants pay income taxes, as evidenced by the Social Security Administration's "suspense file" (taxes that cannot be matched to worker's names and social security numbers), which grew $20 billion between 1990 and 1998.National Academy of Sciences, Cato Institute, Urban Institute, Social Security Administration
2. Immigrants come here to take welfareImmigrants come to work and reunite with family members. Immigrant labor force participation is consistently higher than native-born, and immigrant workers make up a larger share of the U.S. labor force (12.4%) than they do the U.S. population (11.5%). Moreover, the ratio between immigrant use of public benefits and the amount of taxes they pay is consistently favorable to the U.S., unless the "study" was undertaken by an anti-immigrant group. In one estimate, immigrants earn about $240 billion a year, pay about $90 billion a year in taxes, and use about $5 billion in public benefits. In another cut of the data, immigrant tax payments total $20 to $30 billion more than the amount of government services they use.American Immigration Lawyers Association, Urban Institute
3. Immigrants send all their money back to their home countriesIn addition to the consumer spending of immigrant households, immigrants and their businesses contribute $162 billion in tax revenue to U.S. federal, sate, and local governments. While it is true that immigrants remit billions of dollars a year to their home countries, this is one of the most targeted and effective forms of direct foreign investment.Cato Institute, Inter-American Development Bank
4. Immigrants take jobs and opportunity away from AmericansThe largest wave of immigration to the U.S. since the early 1900s coincided with our lowest national unemployment rate and fastest economic growth. Immigrant entrepreneurs create jobs for U.S. and foreign workers, and foreign-born students allow many U.S. graduate programs to keep their doors open. While there has been no comprehensive study done of immigrantowned businesses, we have countless examples: in Silicon Valley, companies begun by Chinese and Indian immigrants generated more than $19.5 billion in sales and nearly 73,000 jobs in 2000.Brookings Institution
5. Immigrants are a drain on the U.S. economyDuring the 1990s half of all new workers were foreignborn, filling gaps left by native-born workers in both the high-and low-skill ends of the spectrum. Immigrants fill jobs in key sectors, start their own businesses, and contribute to a thriving economy. The net benefit of immigration to the U.S. is nearly $10 billion annually. As Alan Greenspan points out, 70% of immigrants arrive in prime working age. That means we haven't spent a penny on their education, yet they are transplanted into our workforce and will contribute $500 billion toward our social security system over the next 20 years.National Academy of Sciences, Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University, Federal Reserve
6. Immigrants don't want to learn English or become AmericansWithin ten years of arrival, more than 75% of immigrants speak Englishwell; moreover, demand for English classes at the adult level far exceeds supply. Greater than 33% of immigrants are naturalized citizens; given increased immigration in the 1990s, this figure will rise as more legal permanent residents become eligible for naturalization in the coming years. The number of immigrants naturalizing spiked sharply after two events: enactment of immigration and welfare reform laws in 1996, and the terrorist attacks in 2001.U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Department of Homeland Security (Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services)
7. Today's immigrants are different than those of 100 years agoThe percentage of the U.S. population that is foreign-born now stands at 11.5%; in the early 20th century it was approximately 15%. Similar to accusations about today's immigrants, those of 100 years ago initially often settled in mono-ethnic neighborhoods, spoke their native languages, and built up newspapers and businesses that catered to their fellow émigrés. They also experienced the same types of discrimination that today's immigrants face, and integrated within American culture at a similar rate. If we view history objectively, we remember that every new wave of immigrants has been met with suspicion and doubt and yet, ultimately, every past wave of immigrants has been vindicated and saluted.U.S. Census Bureau
8. Most immigrants cross the border illegallyAround 75% have legal permanent (immigrant) visas; of the 25% that are undocumented, 40% overstayed temporary (non-immigrant) visas.INS Statistical Yearbook
9. Weak U.S. border enforcement has lead to high undocumented immigrationFrom 1986 to 1998, the border Patrol's budget increased six-fold and the number of agents stationed on our southwest border doubled to 8,500. The border Patrol also toughened its enforcement strategy, heavily fortifying typical urban entry points and pushing migrants into dangerous desert areas, in hopes of deterring crossings. Instead, the undocumented immigrant population doubled in that timeframe, to 8 million—despite the legalization of nearly 3 million immigrants after the enactment of the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986. Insufficient legal avenues for immigrants to enter the U.S., compared with the number of jobs available to them, have created this current conundrum.Cato Institute
10. The war on terrorism can be won through immigration restrictionsNo security expert since September 11th, 2001 has said that restrictive immigration measures would have prevented the terrorist attacks—instead, the key is good use of good intelligence. Most of the 9/11 hijackers were here on legal visas. Since 9/11, the myriad of measures targeting immigrants in the name of national security have netted no terrorism prosecutions. In fact, several of these measures could have the opposite effect and actually make us less safe, as targeted communities of immigrants are afraid to come forward with information.Newspaper articles, various security experts, and think tanks



Graham, Hugh Davis. Collision Course: The Strange Convergence of Affirmative Action and Immigration Policy in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Laham, Nicholas. Ronald Reagan and the Politics of Immigration Reform. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2000.

Lee, Kenneth K. Huddled Masses, Muddled Laws: Why Contemporary Immigration Policy Fails to Reflect Public Opinion. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1998.

Reimers, David M. Unwelcome Strangers: American Identity and the Turn against Immigration. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998.

Web sites

Federation for American Immigration Reform. "Federation for American Immigration Reform." 〈〉 (accessed June 16, 2006).

National Immigration Forum. "National Immigration Forum." 〈〉 (accessed June 16, 2006).