Trump's Bogus Immigration Claims Come Straight From Nativist Groups And Fringe Right-Wing Media

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President Donald Trump spent part of his February 28 speech to Congress fearmongering about immigrants. His claims that today’s immigration system threatens jobs and lowers wages, drains government benefits, and makes communities less safe come straight from nativist groups and fringe right-wing media outlets that present distorted research as fact and discredit credible studies that undercut their anti-immigrant agenda.

Trump Claims Immigration System Harms Wages, Taxpayers, And Public Safety

Trump: Current Immigration System “Depresses Wages” And “Puts Great Pressure On Taxpayers.” President Donald Trump focused a substantial part of his first speech to Congress on immigration, claiming that the current immigration system “depresses wages for our poorest workers” and “puts great pressure on taxpayers.” He also suggested that restrictions to immigration would “make our communities safer for everyone.” From provided text of the speech:

At the same time, my Administration has answered the pleas of the American people for immigration enforcement and border security. By finally enforcing our immigration laws, we will raise wages, help the unemployed, save billions of dollars, and make our communities safer for everyone. We want all Americans to succeed –- but that can't happen in an environment of lawless chaos. We must restore integrity and the rule of law to our borders.

[...]

I am going to bring back millions of jobs. Protecting our workers also means reforming our system of legal immigration. The current, outdated system depresses wages for our poorest workers, and puts great pressure on taxpayers.

Nations around the world, like Canada, Australia and many others –- have a merit-based immigration system. It is a basic principle that those seeking to enter a country ought to be able to support themselves financially. Yet, in America, we do not enforce this rule, straining the very public resources that our poorest citizens rely upon. According to the National Academy of Sciences, our current immigration system costs America's taxpayers many billions of dollars a year.

Switching away from this current system of lower-skilled immigration, and instead adopting a merit-based system, will have many benefits: it will save countless dollars, raise workers' wages, and help struggling families –- including immigrant families –- enter the middle class. [Time, 2/28/17]

Trump’s Claims Came Straight From Nativist Groups And Right-Wing Media

Trump Claim: Immigration “Depresses Wages”

Trump: “The Current, Outdated System Depresses Wages” And Hurts “Struggling Families.” From provided text of the speech:

I am going to bring back millions of jobs. Protecting our workers also means reforming our system of legal immigration. The current, outdated system depresses wages for our poorest workers, and puts great pressure on taxpayers.

[...]

Switching away from this current system of lower-skilled immigration, and instead adopting a merit-based system, will have many benefits: it will save countless dollars, raise workers' wages, and help struggling families –- including immigrant families –- enter the middle class. [Time, 2/28/17]

Nativists And Right-Wing Media Push Skewed Data To Claim That Immigrants Lower Wages Of American Workers

CIS Contributor George Borjas: Immigration “Redistribute[s] Income By Lowering Wages Of Competing American Workers.” Professor George Borjas, who has co-authored studies for the nativist group Center For Immigration Studies (CIS), frequently argues that undocumented immigrants depress the wages of American workers, writing, “Illegal immigration reduces the wage of native workers by an estimated $99 to $118 billion a year, and generates a gain for businesses and other users of immigrants of $107 to $128 billion.” [Center for Immigration Studies, April 2013]

CIS Executive Director Used His Platform At National Review To Promote Borjas’ False Claim That Immigrants Depress American Wages. CIS executive director Mark Krikorian cheerleaded Borjas’ work in National Review, calling him “the nation’s leading immigration economist” and urging readers to buy the misleading book that he insists publishes “the facts on immigration.” [National Review, 9/7/16]

Breitbart Cites Borjas’ Pseudo-Debunk Of Credible Studies That Found Immigrants Do Not Lower Americans’ Wages. Breitbart lauded Borjas for attempting to discredit reports that show immigrants do not hamper the wages of American workers, writing that he finds “immigration does, in fact, have a negative impact on wages of American workers.” [Breitbart, 1/13/16]

Daily Caller: The “Transfer Of Wealth From U.S. Workers To The Businesses That Hire Those Immigrants … Amounts To $500 Billion Dollars.” The Daily Caller relied on Borjas’ research to claim that immigrants cost the U.S. $500 billion dollars per year because immigrants “are eligible to compete for any job in the U.S. economy.” [The Daily Caller, 3/16/16]

Credible Research Shows That Immigrants Have Little To No Effect On Wages While Complementing Existing American Jobs

Los Angeles Review Of Books: Borjas’ Conclusions Are Based On Unreliable Assumptions. The Los Angeles Review of Books debunked Borjas’ theory, explaining that his analysis is dependent on the idea that immigrants “have the same skills and are interested in performing the same jobs. Borjas admits that this will not always be the case.” It notes that he assumes that “there is a fixed amount of work in the world, so that an immigrant’s gain is necessarily a native worker’s loss.” The review also fills in areas that Borjas overlooked, citing many other economists’ ideas and writing that “immigrants are consumers as well as producers; not only do they increase the supply of workers competing for jobs, but they also increase the demand for goods and services, creating new jobs in the process.” From the December 10 article:

Of course, the helicopter parable depends on a key assumption: that the immigrants who have parachuted down in the middle of the night are perfect substitutes for the native workers they find on the ground — that is, that they have the same skills and are interested in performing the same jobs. Borjas admits that this will not always be the case. Some immigrants will be complements to native workers: they will take jobs that native workers won’t — mowing the lawn, perhaps, or cleaning houses — thereby freeing up natives to become more productive and earn higher wages. In reality, any influx of migrants is likely to include some substitutes and some complements; a wave of low-skilled migrants, for example, would substitute for low-skilled native workers while complementing high-skilled ones. But in the modern American context, Borjas claims, the substitution effect has won out: “low-skill workers have paid much of the bill for whatever gains have accrued elsewhere.” Whether Borjas is right on this matter may depend on how one defines a “low-skilled” worker: if the definition includes only high-school dropouts, then Borjas’s finding may hold — there is vigorous debate on the issue — but if it also includes high-school graduates, as other economists claim, the fall in wages disappears.

Borjas’s parable also falls prey to the “lump of labor” fallacy: the idea that there is a fixed amount of work in the world, so that an immigrant’s gain is necessarily a native worker’s loss. Expanding a city’s population from one million to 1.1 million people poses a problem for workers only if there are no more than one million jobs to go around. But immigrants are consumers as well as producers; not only do they increase the supply of workers competing for jobs, but they also increase the demand for goods and services, creating new jobs in the process. As the economist David Roodman has written, “they expand the economic pie even as they compete for a slice.” [Los Angeles Review of Books, 12/10/16]

NY Times: National Academies Of Sciences Found “Little To No Negative Effects On Overall Wages And Employment Of Native-Born Workers In The Longer Term.” The New York Times reported on a study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, a prestigious nonpartisan research organization, which found that immigration had “‘little to no negative effects on overall wages and employment of native-born workers in the longer term.’” From the September 21 article:

The report assembles research from 14 leading economists, demographers and other scholars, including some, like Marta Tienda of Princeton, who write favorably about the impacts of immigration and others who are skeptical of its benefits, like George J. Borjas, a Harvard economist. Here’s what the report says:

• “We found little to no negative effects on overall wages and employment of native-born workers in the longer term,” said Francine D. Blau, an economics professor at Cornell University who led the group that produced the 550-page report.

• Some immigrants who arrived in earlier generations, but were still in the same low-wage labor markets as foreigners just coming to the country, earned less and had more trouble finding jobs because of the competition with newer arrivals. [The New York Times, 9/21/16]

University Of Pennsylvania: Immigrants “Do Not Compete For The Same Jobs” As U.S.-Born Workers, And Immigration Has Resulted In Higher Wages For Native-Born Workers Over Past Few Decades. A University of Pennsylvania analysis of past research on immigration’s economic impacts found “little support” for claims that immigration has negatively affected wages for U.S.-born workers, and instead concluded that “economic effects of immigration are mostly positive for natives and for the overall economy.” From the brief:

While much of the debate centers on cultural issues, the economic effects of immigration are clear: Economic analysis finds little support for the view that inflows of foreign labor have reduced jobs or Americans’ wages. Economic theory predictions and the bulk of academic research confirms that wages are unaffected by immigration over the long-term and that the economic effects of immigration are mostly positive for natives and for the overall economy.

[...]

Has the surge in immigration since 1970 led to slower wage growth for native-born workers? Academic research does not provide much support for this claim. The evidence suggests that when immigration increases the supply of labor, firms increase investment to offset any reduction in capital per worker, thereby keeping average wages from falling over the long term. Moreover, immigrants are often imperfect substitutes for native-born workers in U.S. labor markets. That means they do not compete for the same jobs and put minimal downward pressure on natives’ wages. This might explain why competition from new immigrants has mostly affected earlier immigrants, who experienced significant reductions in wages from the surge in immigration. In contrast, studies find that immigration has actually raised average wages of native-born workers during the last few decades. [University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School, 6/27/16]

Immigration Policy Center: There Is "Little Apparent Relationship" Between Immigration and Unemployment Statistics. According to the American Immigration Council’s Immigration Policy Center, an analysis of 2011 data found there is "little apparent relationship" between immigration since 2000 and unemployment statistics (emphasis original):

An IPC analysis of 2011 data from the American Community Survey found that, at the county level, there is no statistically significant relationship between the unemployment rate and the presence of recent immigrants who arrived in 2000 or later. [Immigration Policy Center, 6/12/13]

Immigration Policy Center: "Latino Immigration Boosts African American Employment And Wages." Another analysis from the American Immigration Council's Immigration Policy Center found that "Latino immigrants and African Americans fill complementary roles in the labor market" and that some cities are actually "rejuvenated by an inflow of Latino immigrants," leading to higher wages, lower poverty, and lower unemployment in local African-American populations:

The evidence shows that cities with greater immigration from Latin America experience:

1. Higher wages for African Americans. For every 1% increase in a city's share of Latinos, African median and mean wages increase by 3%.

[...]

2. Lower shares of African Americans in poverty (less than $20,000) and greater shares of African Americans who are well-off (incomes exceeding $60,000).

[...]

5. More jobs among all African American age cohorts. A 1% rise in Latino immigration contributes to a 1.4% increase in employment rates among African Americans, and increases in young Latinos (20-24) contribute to 0.5% increase in employment among young African Americans. [Immigration Policy Center, 6/12/13; Media Matters, 4/17/16]

Trump Claim: Immigration Strains “Public Resources” At Taxpayer Expense

Trump: Current Immigration System “Puts Great Pressure On Taxpayers” And Is “Straining … Public Resources.” From provided text of the speech:

The current, outdated system depresses wages for our poorest workers, and puts great pressure on taxpayers.

Nations around the world, like Canada, Australia and many others –- have a merit-based immigration system. It is a basic principle that those seeking to enter a country ought to be able to support themselves financially. Yet, in America, we do not enforce this rule, straining the very public resources that our poorest citizens rely upon. According to the National Academy of Sciences, our current immigration system costs America's taxpayers many billions of dollars a year. [Time, 2/28/17]

Nativist And Far-Right Media Claims: Immigrants Cost Taxpayers Billions Of Dollars In Services And Welfare

CIS Study Claims More Than Half Of Immigrant-Led Households Are On "Welfare." A September 2015 study by CIS’ Steven Camarota claimed that "51 percent of households headed by an immigrant" reported using "at least one welfare program during the year." These programs include "Medicaid and cash, food, and housing programs." The study brief fearmongered about “the heavy use of welfare by less-educated immigrants” and used anti-immigrant slurs such as “illegal alien” when promising more research soon. In 2016, CIS released another study claiming to outline “the dollar cost of that welfare use.” [Center for Immigration Studies, September 2015, June 2016; Media Matters, 1/27/17]

Breitbart.com: CIS Study Shows Immigrants Use More In Benefits Than Nonimmigrants Do. Breitbart.com claimed that the 2016 CIS study showed immigrant households “use 41 percent more federal welfare benefits than their native-born counterparts.” The Breitbart post followed the nativist group’s methodology to fearmonger about immigrant communities from Central America and Mexico, citing a CIS statement that immigration was leading to “‘huge and ongoing costs to taxpayers.’” From the May 9 article:

Immigrant-headed households use 41 percent more federal welfare benefits than their native-born counterparts, according to a new Center for Immigration Studies analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data.
The average household headed by an immigrant (both legal and illegal) in 2012 consumed $6,234 federal in welfare benefits, while the average native-headed households consumed $4,431 in benefits, says the CIS report, which is based on data from the Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation. [Breitbart.com, 5/9/16]

Fox's Tucker Carlson: Undocumented Immigrants Are "Going To Get A Lot More Government Money Than They're Paying In." On the November 21, 2014, edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends, co-host Tucker Carlson said undocumented immigrants would "get a lot more government money than they're paying in" under Obama’s 2014 immigration executive action because “most of these families don't make enough to pay income taxes”:

TUCKER CARLSON (HOST): The president says they're going to pay taxes, but most of these families don't make enough to pay income taxes. In fact, they get money back on the Earned Income Tax Credit. So in fact, they're going to get a lot more government money than they're paying in, no?

STUART VARNEY: I think the taxes that he's referring to are Social Security taxes, which you would, in fact, pay as soon as you go on the books. But you're right. The income of many of the people who are allowed to stay is so low that they don't meet the threshold for state or federal income taxes and probably get a check in the mail in January from the Earned Income Tax Credit.

CARLSON: So we're sending more checks to more people who aren't even here legally?

VARNEY: That will probably happen. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 11/21/14]

CIS Distorted Data To Claim That The “Fiscal Cost Of Illegal Border-Crossers … Is Possibly $140,000 To $150,000 Each.” In an obvious attempt to advocate for Trump’s border wall, CIS released a study claiming that the wall would pay for itself given that “illegal border-crossers create an average fiscal burden of approximately $74,722 during their lifetimes,” while also proposing that the fiscal cost of undocumented immigrants could be as high as $150,000 when taking their children into account. [Center for Immigration Studies, February 2017; Media Matters, 2/23/17]

Wash. Times: The Border Wall “Would Pay For Itself By Saving American Taxpayers From Spending Money On Services” For Immigrants. The Washington Times wrote that “stopping just 200,000 border-jumpers over the next decade would save some $15 billion,” echoing Camarota’s claim that immigrants are a drain on the economy. [The Washington Times, 2/16/17]

Facts: Immigrants Are Estimated To Pay More In Taxes Than They Receive In Benefits

Study: Undocumented Immigrants Pay “An Estimated $11.6 Billion In State And Local Taxes.” A February 2016 analysis by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) reported that "undocumented immigrants contribute more than $11.6 billion" at the state and local level, and on average, pay 8 percent of their income in taxes:

The report, Undocumented Immigrants’ State and Local Tax Contributions, provides state-by-state and national estimates on undocumented immigrants,’ current state and local tax contributions, including a breakdown of sales and excise, personal income, and property taxes.

[...]

The report’s key findings:

  • Undocumented immigrants contribute significantly to state and local governments, collectively paying an estimated $11.6 billion in state and local taxes.
  • Undocumented immigrants’ nationwide average effective state and local tax rate (the share of income they pay in state and local taxes) is an estimated 8 percent. (The top 1 percent of taxpayers nationwide pay an average effective tax rate of just 5.4 percent.)
  • Granting legal status to all 11 million undocumented immigrants as part of a comprehensive immigration reform and allowing them to work in the United States legally would increase their state and local tax contributions by an estimated $2.1 billion a year. Their effective tax rate would increase from 8 to 8.6 percent.
  • [Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, February 2016]

Research Shows “A Net Positive Return On The Investment” When Immigrants Utilize Social Safety Net Programs. A University of Pennsylvania analysis found that immigrants generally “impose relatively small costs on Social Security and Medicare,“ “are less likely than comparably low income” U.S.-born workers to “receive public assistance,” and also receive lower benefit amounts. The issue brief summarized (emphasis added):

Indeed, the experience of the last few decades suggests that immigration may actually have significant long-term benefits for the native-born, pushing them into higher-paying occupations and raising the overall pace of innovation and productivity growth. Moreover, as baby boomers have begun moving into retirement in advanced economies around the world, immigration is helping to keep America comparatively young and reducing the burden of financing retirement benefits for a growing elderly population. While natives bear some upfront costs for the provision of public services to immigrants and their families, the evidence suggests a net positive return on the investment over the long term. [University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School, 6/27/16]

CIS’ Estimate Of The Fiscal Cost Of Immigrants Is Based On A Debunked Study. The CIS report claiming that Trump’s border wall would pay for itself assumes that immigrants “receive far more in government benefits than they pay in taxes." That assertion comes from a Heritage Foundation study from 2013 by Robert Rector and Jason Richwine. The Cato Institute reviewed that report, concluding that it is “depressingly static, leading to a massive underestimation of the economic benefits of immigration and diminishing estimated tax revenue” because it “explicitly refuses to consider the GDP growth and economic productivity gains from immigration reform—factors that increase native-born American incomes.” It is also important to note that Richwine has a history of disseminating “fundamentally flawed” reports on immigration and has opined that Latinos may “never reach IQ parity” with white people. From the May 7, 2013, Cato Institute analysis of the Heritage Foundation report:

The new Heritage report is still depressingly static, leading to a massive underestimation of the economic benefits of immigration and diminishing estimated tax revenue. It explicitly refuses to consider the GDP growth and economic productivity gains from immigration reform—factors that increase native-born American incomes. An overlooked flaw is that the study doesn’t even score the specific immigration reform proposal in the Senate. Its flawed methodology and lack of relevancy to the current immigration reform proposal relegate this study to irrelevancy. [Cato Institute, 5/7/13; Media Matters, 6/2/16, 2/23/17]

Trump Claim: Restricting Immigration Would “Make Our Communities Safer” Than Current System of “Lawless Chaos”

Trump Claim: Restricting Immigration Would “Make Our Communities Safer For Everyone,” Eliminate “An Environment Of Lawless Chaos.” From provided text of the speech:

By finally enforcing our immigration laws, we will raise wages, help the unemployed, save billions of dollars, and make our communities safer for everyone. We want all Americans to succeed –- but that can't happen in an environment of lawless chaos. We must restore integrity and the rule of law to our borders. [Time magazine, 2/28/17]
 

Fringe Right-Wing Media Claim: Immigrants Cause Increased Crime

Breitbart.com: “NBC Covers Up Evidence of Immigration Crime Wave.” Breitbart.com claimed that NBC was “cover[ing] up evidence” of an “immigration crime wave,” pointing to a 2011 Government Accountability Office report. From the July 20, 2015, article:

Tomorrow, the Judiciary Committee will hear testimony from Americans who lost loved ones to criminal alien violence. On Sunday’s Meet The Press, Chuck Todd made a declaration that would surprise these devastated families: “We couldn’t find a single study that links violent crime and immigration.”

Apparently neither Mr. Todd nor his research staff ever thought to look up the government’s own 2011 report on criminal alien activity, published by the Government Accountability Office. [Breitbart.com, 7/20/15]

Laura Ingraham Hosted Guest Connected To Nativist Group To Claim Immigrants Commit A "Tremendous" Amount Of Crime. Radio host Laura Ingraham, who has a history of attacking immigrants, hosted guest Maria Espinoza, founder of the Remembrance Project, which is linked to the nativist group NumbersUSA. Espinoza claimed undocumented immigrants commit a "tremendous amount of killings of Americans by ... driving drunk" and committing other crimes including "child molestation and rapes." From the June 6, 2013, edition of Premiere Radio Networks’ The Laura Ingraham Show:

LAURA INGRAHAM (HOST): Specifically what crimes are they [undocumented immigrants] committing supposedly?

MARIA ESPINOZA: Well Laura, in our research, we've found there's a tremendous amount of killings of Americans by illegal aliens driving drunk and that is kept secret. It really stays local in different areas, in different states. And also, what we've found, high occurrences of child molestation and rapes. [Courtside Entertainment Group, The Laura Ingraham Show, 6/17/13; Media Matters, 11/18/16, 1/27/17]

Facts: Foreign-Born Residents Less Likely Than U.S.-Born Residents To Commit Crimes

American Immigration Council: Multiple Studies Have Found That Immigrants Are Less Likely Than U.S.-Born Individuals To Commit Crimes. A July 2015 report from the American Immigration Council noted that “innumerable studies” have found that “immigrants are less likely to commit serious crimes or be behind bars than the native-born, and high rates of immigration are associated with lower rates of violent crime and property crime.” From the study:

For more than a century, innumerable studies have confirmed two simple yet powerful truths about the relationship between immigration and crime: immigrants are less likely to commit serious crimes or be behind bars than the native-born, and high rates of immigration are associated with lower rates of violent crime and property crime.This holds true for both legal immigrants and the unauthorized, regardless of their country of origin or level of education. In other words, the overwhelming majority of immigrants are not “criminals” by any commonly accepted definition of the term. For this reason, harsh immigration policies are not effective in fighting crime. Unfortunately, immigration policy is frequently shaped more by fear and stereotype than by empirical evidence. As a result, immigrants have the stigma of “criminality” ascribed to them by an ever-evolving assortment of laws and immigration enforcement mechanisms. [American Immigration Council, 7/13/15]

Scientific American: “Immigrants Do Not Increase Crime, Research Shows.” Scientific American spoke to experts who said there was “virtually no support for the enduring assumption that increases in immigration are associated with increases in crime” and that that finding “remains clear.” From the February 7 article:

Robert Adelman, University at Buffalo, and Lesley Reid, University of Alabama
Research has shown virtually no support for the enduring assumption that increases in immigration are associated with increases in crime.
Immigration-crime research over the past 20 years has widely corroborated the conclusions of a number of early 20th-century presidential commissions that found no backing for the immigration-crime connection. Although there are always individual exceptions, the literature demonstrates that immigrants commit fewer crimes, on average, than native-born Americans.

[...]

Charis E. Kubrin, University of California, Irvine, and Graham Ousey, College of William and Mary

For the last decade, we have been studying how immigration to an area impacts crime.

Across our studies, one finding remains clear: Cities and neighborhoods with greater concentrations of immigrants have lower rates of crime and violence, all else being equal. [Scientific American, 2/7/17]

NY Times: Studies Show “Immigrants Are Less Likely to Commit Crimes.” The New York Times reported that “several studies, over many years, have concluded that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than people born in the United States.” It added that “analyses of census data from 1980 through 2010 show that among men ages 18 to 49, immigrants were one-half to one-fifth as likely to be incarcerated as those born in the United States.” From the January 26 article:

But several studies, over many years, have concluded that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than people born in the United States. And experts say the available evidence does not support the idea that undocumented immigrants commit a disproportionate share of crime.

“There’s no way I can mess with the numbers to get a different conclusion,” said Alex Nowrasteh, immigration policy analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute, which advocates more liberal immigration laws.

[...]

Analyses of census data from 1980 through 2010 show that among men ages 18 to 49, immigrants were one-half to one-fifth as likely to be incarcerated as those born in the United States. Across all ages and sexes, about 7 percent of the nation’s population are noncitizens, while figures from the Justice Department show that about 5 percent of inmates in state and federal prisons are noncitizens. [The New York Times, 1/26/17]

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