The findings of a poll that the majority of Latino immigrants who come to the United States illegally do so for economic opportunities and a better life for their families deflate the right-wing media myth that undocumented immigrants are more interested in taking advantage of government benefits.
The poll released April 15 by Latino Decisions found that more than three quarters of undocumented immigrants from Latin America "came to the U.S. for better economic opportunity, or to create a better life for their family."
From the poll:
Opportunity is identified as the principal reason for coming to the United States. Overall, 77% came to the U.S. for better economic opportunity, or to create a better life for their family. Approximately 39% of our respondents said "better jobs and economic opportunity" as the reason for migration, while another 38% said "to create a better life for [your] family and children." Another 12% came to reunite with family members.
A recent Washington Post article quoted Center for Immigration Studies' research director Steven Camarota who peddled the claim that undocumented immigrants "need" social government programs because they are supposedly more reliant on public services than native-born Americans.
Fox News host Bill O'Reilly has said that immigration reform would mean more immigrants "on the welfare entitlement train;" the Wall Street Journal's Stephen Moore has warned that the U.S. welfare system could become a "magnet" for other immigrants; and Fox News contributor Michelle Malkin has argued that immigration reform would "rope more immigrants into [the] welfare state."
Fox News and National Review Online gave credence to claims about immigrant's use of social benefits by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) without noting that immigrants are less likely than native-born Americans to rely on such programs.
In a Fox News segment about the cost of comprehensive immigration reform to taxpayers, host Neil Cavuto allowed CIS research director Steven Camarota to repeat the myth that immigrants use social benefits at higher rates than native-born Americans because they are less educated, and that, if given legal status, they would stay on welfare. Cavuto did not challenge any of Camarota's claims:
Camarota's CIS counterpart, executive director Mark Krikorian, penned a column for National Review Online to further establish the myth, saying that, if you control for income, immigrants' rate of use of social benefit programs is less than that of poor Americans. He added that this means that "immigration imports a better class of underclass."
Numerous studies have debunked the claim that immigrants use public benefits in greater numbers than Americans, which Krikorian admitted in his column, albeit with a clear caveat. Moreover, as the Cato Institute explained when it took issue with CIS' study on immigrants and their use of public benefits, CIS uses a flawed methodology that counts the American-born children of immigrants along with undocumented or legal immigrants to determine costs:
Our approach of counting immigrant welfare use individually is used by the conservative state of Texas to measure immigrant use of government education and other benefits. The Texas Comptroller's Office did not include the children of immigrants who were American citizens when calculating the cost to public services in Texas because, "the inclusion of these children dramatically increased the costs."
In other words, counting the cost of the children of immigrants who are born citizens is a bad approach. If we were to follow Camarota's methodology, why not count the welfare costs of the great-grandchildren of immigrants who use welfare or public schools today? Our study, on the other hand, measures the welfare cost of non-naturalized immigrants and, where possible, naturalized Americans.
A Fox News "fact" on the supposed costs of illegal immigration to U.S. taxpayers was lifted from a study by the anti-immigrant hate group Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) that has been debunked as flawed.
During a segment on Fox News' America's Newsroom discussing the new immigration reform plan soon to be released by a bi-partisan group in the Senate, Fox displayed a "Fox Facts" graphic as host Martha MacCallum interviewed Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC):
This so-called fact is based on research from the anti-immigrant hate group FAIR. In 2010, FAIR released a study titled, "The Fiscal Burden of Illegal Immigration on United States Taxpayers," which found "the annual costs of illegal immigration at the federal, state and local level to be about $113 billion." At the time the study was released, FoxNews.com defended both FAIR and the study.
The Washington Post quoted the research director of the anti-immigrant Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) arguing that immigrants are a drain on public services without noting that the center's analysis on the issue has been criticized as flawed. A study by the libertarian Cato Institute found that immigrants are actually less likely to rely on public benefits than native-born Americans.
In an article examining the effect immigrants have on Social Security, the Post noted that many undocumented immigrants file tax returns and thus pay into the Social Security trust fund, even though they may never be able to access it themselves because they are legally unable to do so. As a counterpoint, the article then included the views of CIS' Steven Camarota:
But Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, which supports limits on immigration, said that America's immigrants are not young or fecund enough to shore up the system.
"If the immigrants all came at 20 and had seven or eight kids, you would see more of a difference," he said. The average immigrant arrives at age 30, and immigrant women have, on average, 2.1 children, according to the Pew Research Center.
Camarota added that immigrants tend to be poorer than native-born Americans and are therefore more reliant on a wide range of public services. "If you bring in a lot of immigrants who are paying into Social Security but then need all these other social programs -- well, then you're not helping the situation."
Analysts on both sides agree that increasing the number of highly skilled immigrants would shore up the system more than the Social Security Administration report accounts for, since high-skilled immigrants pay more taxes and spend more than low-skilled ones.
However, in a study released in February, the Cato Institute found that immigrants are less likely than native-born Americans to use public services:
[L]ow-income non-citizen immigrants, including adults and children, are generally less likely to receive public benefits than those who are native-born. Moreover, when non-citizen immigrants receive benefits, the value of benefits they receive is usually lower than the value of benefits received by those born in the United States. The combination of lower average utilization and smaller average benefits indicates that the overall cost of public benefits is substantially less for low-income non-citizen immigrants than for comparable native-born adults and children.
Cato also noted that while immigrants' earnings tend to be lower than Americans' when beginning their careers, that changes over time as they invest more in education and training: "[W]hile immigrants begin with lower earnings, their incomes improve as they remain in the United States for longer periods. As immigrants remain longer in the United States, their English proficiency and other job skills improve, which heightens their earning potential."
From the April 2 edition of Courtside Entertainment Group's The Laura Ingraham Show:
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Media figures are peddling claims by anti-immigrant advocates that immigration reform would hurt the economy and negatively impact American workers, even though economic evidence disproves this false narrative. A new poll showing that small business owners support immigration reform indicates that they also distrust these anti-immigrant arguments.
In a recent column praising the work of Mark Krikorian, executive director of the nativist organization Center for Immigration Studies, CNN contributor David Frum, also a Daily Beast contributing editor, wrote that "because the illegals are predominantly very low-income, their demand on such [social welfare] programs will be heavy -- and not only long-term, but likely multigenerational."
Krikorian also peddled this falsehood in a March 19 National Review Online column, writing that because immigrants are "so unskilled and thus earn so little money... they are inevitably net costs to taxpayers."
WND repeated similar claims in an exclusive interview with Roy Beck, executive director of nativist organization NumbersUSA who said that Republican Sen. Rand Paul's immigration reform plan -- which has many of the same pro-immigration stances as proposals being floated by President Obama and the bi-partisan group of senators known as the "Gang of 8" -- would have serious economic consequences and is "a keeping wages low plan."
However, a new poll gauging the immigration views of job creators' shows that they are not buying into these arguments. A poll released on March 27 by the Small Business Majority found that small business owners, many of whom identified as Republican and either are the child of, or are, an immigrant, overwhelmingly support a comprehensive immigration reform plan that includes a path to citizenship. Included in the report:
Mainstream media outlets should be aware of damaging economic attacks leveled by anti-immigrant groups in an attempt to derail comprehensive immigration reform. In reality, research indicates that comprehensive immigration reform would improve the U.S. economy, create jobs and boost American wages. Moreover, new findings show that immigrants are less likely to rely on public benefits than native-born Americans.
Fox News contributor Fred Barnes alleged that President Obama is championing legislation that will make undocumented immigrants instantly eligible for a pathway to citizenship. In fact, according to Obama's immigration reform proposal, applicants must prove eligibility and wait roughly thirteen years before becoming citizens.
On the March 27 edition of Special Report with Bret Baier, Barnes suggested that President Obama's immigration reform bill includes instant eligibility for a pathway to citizenship:
In reality, Obama's plan would require applicants to wait multiple years before obtaining citizenship. Talking Points Memo reported that applicants would likely have to wait eight years to obtain a green card, and five more to apply for citizenship.
A draft of the White House immigration proposal published by USA Today on February 17 outlined a conditioned path to citizenship in which undocumented immigrants would have to pay taxes, pass a criminal background check, submit biometric information, and pay additional fees before applying for the new visa:
According to the White House draft, people would need to pass a criminal background check, submit biometric information and pay fees to qualify for the new visa. If approved, they would be allowed to legally reside in the U.S. for four years, work and leave the country for short periods of time. After the four years, they could then reapply for an extension.
Illegal immigrants would be disqualified from the program if they were convicted of a crime that led to a prison term of at least one year, three or more different crimes that resulted in a total of 90 days in jail, or if they committed any offense abroad that "if committed in the United States would render the alien inadmissible or removable from the United States."
Fox News continued to stoke fears that immigrants are a threat to public safety by advancing Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer's argument that granting undocumented immigrants driver's licenses might endanger American citizens. Fox has repeatedly sought to equate immigrants with an increase in crime, even as experts argue that crime drops as immigration rises.
Discussing a lawsuit challenging Brewer's decision, Fox News anchor Uma Pemmaraju suggested on Happening Now that Brewer is right to deny undocumented immigrants driver's licenses because it could jeopardize public safety. Pemmaraju stated: "What about when she raises issues about the safety of the citizens -- the fact that we already have situations that threaten our people here? We don't need another added burden."
In fact, experts contend that licensing undocumented immigrants will do the exact opposite -- increase public safety and promote the rule of law since it would encourage people who would otherwise be on the road anyway to get the training needed to obtain the license.
In June 2012, the Obama administration announced it would grant "deferred action" to certain undocumented immigrants under 31, exempting them from deportation for a period renewable every two years. Those who qualify are eligible to obtain work permits and Social Security cards. Though they do not have full legal status, they are considered to be lawfully present in the United States under the program.
Two months later, Brewer issued an executive order denying driver's licenses and IDs to the undocumented youths, claiming that state law barred these immigrants from obtaining driver's licenses.
This action was unusual. According to the National Immigration Law Center, at least 38 states, including the District of Columbia, have announced they will issue or plan to issue licenses to undocumented immigrants who have deferred status. Only two -- Arizona and Nebraska -- have explicitly said they will deny them. A number of states have cited the benefit to public safety as reason to issue driver's licenses, saying it would promote the rule of law and cut down on traffic violations and unlicensed drivers.
Fox News continues to peddle anti-immigrant myths, such as undocumented immigrants are a drain on the nation's economy, even as Republican leaders recognize the economic benefits of comprehensive immigration reform.
On March 18, the Republican National Committee released a report diagnosing the Republican Party's failures during the 2012 election cycle and offered recommendations to ensure future victories. The report argued for passing comprehensive immigration reform as one way to improve its image among Hispanics, saying:
[A]mong the steps Republicans take in the Hispanic community and beyond, we must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform. If we do not, our Party's appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only. We also believe that comprehensive immigration reform is consistent with Republican economic policies that promote job growth and opportunity for all.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) echoed that message, emphasizing in a speech today that immigration reform would help the economy. Paul stated, "somewhere along the line Republicans have failed to understand and articulate that immigrants are an asset to America, not a liability." He went on to stress the point that immigrants are synonymous with hard work, adding: "Whether we are discussing hard work, respect for life or the quest for freedom, immigrants bring with them the same values that previous generations of immigrants did."
But the economic message that Fox News is projecting is one that pits immigrants against American citizens and promotes the myth that immigrants have a detrimental effect on the American economy and society. On the March 19 edition of America's Newsroom, host Martha MacCallum brought on Bob Dane, spokesman for Southern Poverty Law Center-labeled hate group the Federation for American Immigration Reform, to criticize Paul and advance these nativist arguments.
First, the myth that immigrants would displace Americans and steal their jobs has been proven time and time again to be false. Second, Dane's assertion that "most illegal aliens are heavily government dependent" is a clear falsehood. Even other anti-immigrant groups such FAIR's sister organization, the Center for Immigration Studies, have said that "preconceived notions about the fiscal impact of illegal households turn out to be inaccurate."
Though Fox News has previously called for a new tone on immigration, the network has continued to allow anti-immigrant voices on its network -- most of whom stoke fears about immigrants -- and let myths and negative images of immigrants dominate its immigration coverage.
President Obama has nominated Thomas E. Perez as Secretary of Labor. Right-wing media used this announcement to push false attacks about Perez based on his service in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division and other civil rights work and advocacy.
The Washington Times misled its readers by claiming that African-American workers would see fewer jobs and lower pay if immigration reform were to pass. Despite the assertions made in the piece, immigrant labor does not steal jobs from American workers -- specifically African-American workers -- and often has a net positive impact on the economy by creating more jobs.
A February 12 article in The Washington Times cited two members of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights who wrote to President Obama claiming that successful immigration reform would "likely mean fewer jobs and lower pay for black Americans" but failed to push back on their unfounded claims. From the article:
Two members of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights wrote to President Obama on Tuesday telling him that if he succeeds in enacting an "effective amnesty" for illegal immigrants, it will likely mean fewer jobs and lower pay for black Americans.
Pointing to hearings the commission held in 2008, the two members -- Peter Kirsanow and Abigail Thernstrom -- said the economics of the situation are clear: Low-skilled blacks compete with low-skilled illegal immigrants, depressing wages.
In fact, overwhelming evidence shows that immigration's negative effect on African-American employment is an unfounded myth. Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Daniel Griswold of the Cato Institute called the idea that low-skilled immigrants take African-American jobs a "pernicious myth" and cited a 1997 report that found no evidence that African-Americans have fewer job opportunities because of immigration.
Another study by Robert Paral & Associates for the Immigration Policy Center found similar results. From the Immigration Policy Center:
One of the most contentious issues in the debate over immigration reform is whether or not the presence of immigrants in the U.S. labor force -- especially undocumented immigrants -- has a major adverse impact on the employment prospects of African Americans. The African American community has long been plagued by high unemployment rates, and a relatively large share of African Americans lack a college education. As a result, some commentators argue that undocumented immigrants, who tend to have low levels of formal education and to work in less skilled occupations, are "taking" large numbers of jobs that might otherwise be filled by African American workers.
If this is indeed the case, one would except to find high unemployment rates among African Americans in locales with large numbers of immigrants in the labor force -- especially immigrants who are relatively recent arrivals to the United States and willing to work for lower wages than most African Americans. However, data from the U.S. Census Bureau reveal that this is not the case. In fact, there is little apparent relationship between recent immigration and unemployment rates among African Americans, or any other native born racial/ethnic group, at the state or metropolitan level.
Gerald D. Jaynes, professor of Economics and African-American Studies at Yale University, who once believed that immigration played a role in the declining African-American workforce, launched a large-scale study that concluded that "declining black unemployment is due more to other factors and events that have been restructuring our nation's labor market during the past several decades," including the elimination of many factory jobs and other blue-collar employment.
Immigrants and other low-wage workers often fill different types of jobs which require different skills. However, when they do work in the same job type, immigrants and other workers often specialize in different aspects of the job, complementing each other rather than competing with one another.
Take the case in Georgia, where a harsh immigration law forced out many of the state's farm workers, which left approximately 11,000 open farm jobs. Despite the open jobs, however, so few people applied that Gov. Nathan Deal pushed farmers to hire 2,000 unemployed criminal probationers, many of whom walked off the job soon after starting.
Wages for native-born workers also, in general, tend to increase as a result of immigration. According to an Economic Policy Institute estimate, native born African-American males experienced an average wage increase of 0.4 percent from 1994 to 1997. Native-born men with less than a high-school education were the only group to see a decrease in wages by 0.2 percent.
In reality, immigration reform would be a huge benefit to the economy. It could add billions of dollars and millions of jobs to the economy, as well as potentially $4.5 to $5.4 billion in additional tax revenues.
This false claim about immigrant labor hurting African-Americans isn't new. Breitbart.com's Seaton Motley used this myth to attack President Obama's deferred action plan. The anti-immigrant nativist organization, NumbersUSA, ran ads hyping this myth during the run up to last year's referendum on the Maryland DREAM Act in an attempt to cause the measure's failure. But this effort backfired -- instead, African-Americans voted overwhelmingly for the measure.
As congressional leaders debate a framework for comprehensive immigration reform that will likely grant undocumented immigrants legal status, conservative media are engaged in promoting myths and falsehoods about what reform means for the country.
From the January 29 edition of Fox News' Your World with Neil Cavuto:
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Right-wing media figures have responded to immigration reform by invoking the oft-repeated conservative argument that legalizing immigrants will enlarge the "welfare state." In fact, the announced immigration reform proposal would prevent newly legalized immigrants from receiving federal benefits for an extended period of time; moreover, immigrants in general are less likely to receive welfare benefits.