No issue is more hotly contested today than immigration, with restrictionists calling for the deportation of illegals and a 50 percent cut in legal immigration.
Here are the five strongest arguments against immigrants and immigration—and why they're wrong.
They take our jobs and lower wages.
President Donald Trump has said that illegals, who are mostly low-skilled, "compete directly against vulnerable American workers" and that reducing legal immigration would "boost wages and ensure open jobs are offered to American workers first."
But as the president himself likes to point out, unemployment across virtually all categories of workers is at or near historic lows, so displacing native-born workers isn't much of an issue. Virtually all economists, regardless of ideology, agree that immigrants, both legal and illegal, have little to no effect on overall wages. The most-vulnerable workers in America are high-school dropouts and economists say that low-skill immigrants from Mexico reduce that group's wages by less than 5 percent—or that they increase drop out wages by almost 1 percent. But it's also true low-skilled immigrants make things cheaper for all Americans by doing jobs such as picking fruit or cleanup on construction sites. And consider this: In the developed world, "There is no correlation between unemployment and immigration rates." Immigrants go to hot economies and they leave when the jobs dry up.
More important, immigrants grow the population, which stimulates economic growth, the only way over the long term to improve standards of living.
They're using massive amounts of welfare.
Since the late 1990s, most legal immigrants and all illegals are barred from receiving means-tested welfare. The only real taxpayer-funded services most immigrants use are emergency medical treatments that account for less than 2 percent of all health-care spending and K-12 education services for their children, who often times are U.S. citizens. For those immigrants who do qualify for programs such as Medicaid, food stamps (SNAP), or supplemental Social Security income (SSI), they use all these programs at lower rates that native-born Americans or naturalized citizens. It's also worth noting that immigrants come here to work, not collect WIC. Legal immigrant men have a labor-force participation rate of about 80 percent, which is 10 points higher than that of natives. Illegal immigrant men have a participation rate of 94 percent, precisely because they can't access welfare.
They don't pay their fair share.
Whether legal or illegal, all immigrants pay sales taxes and property taxes (the latter are factored into the cost of rental units for people who don't own homes). And all legal immigrants pay all the payroll and income taxes that native-born Americans do. Amazingly, most illegals also cough up income and payroll taxes too. That's because most of them use fake Social Security cards and other documents to get hired. Somewhere between 50 percent and two-thirds pay federal income and FICA taxes. In 2010, for instance, administrators of Social Security said that "unauthorized immigrants" contributed $12 billion to Social Security trust funds that they will never be able to get back. According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, about half of illegals paid state and local taxes worth over $10 billion.
They broke the law to get here and they're bringing all their relatives.
Critics of illegal immigration often say that unauthorized entrants refuse to stand in line and wait for their turn. That's true but misleading. For many immigrants, especially low-skilled immigrants from countries such as Mexico, there is really no line. In 2010, for instance, just 65,000 visas were given to Mexicans, with the overwhelming majority going to close family members such as spouses and minor children. The wait list had 1.4 million people on it, effectively meaning there is no chance of ever getting in the country. Similarly long wait lists exist for the Philippines, China, India, and other countries.
And for all the fear of what restrictionists call "chain migration," legal immigration under the rubric of family reunification consists almost exclusively of U.S. citizens bringing their spouses and unmarried minor children to live here. The only other people that can be brought over are parents, adult children, and siblings. However, due to the backlogs for most countries, that typically takes between 15 and 25 years. If you start trying to bring your sister over when she's 25, you'll be lucky to welcome her by the time she turns 40.
They're not assimilating.
"The melting pot is broken," say anti-immigrant activists, who worry that more foreigners in our midst will destroy American culture because they aren't assimilating the way past waves of newcomers did. The evidence for such pessimism is weak at best. About one-third of Mexican immigrants marry outside their ethnicity or race, the same percentage as in 1990. Successive generations also see massive gains in household income and home-ownership rates, too. And when it comes to learning English, all signs are that Hispanics are less likely to speak Spanish at home than in years past and have higher and higher levels of proficiency in English. By the third generation, just 25 percent of Hispanic households say that Spanish is the dominant language at home.
Americans have always been of two minds when it comes to immigration. On the one hand we all recognize that either we or our ancestors came from somewhere else. On the other hand, we're suspicious of newcomers, especially from different parts of the world than we're used to. With India and China now displacing Mexico as the largest sender countries, that sense of discomfort may continue. But it's also true that 49 percent of Americans believe that immigration helps the economy (versus 40 percent saying it hurts), 60 percent saying it has had no effect on their job, and 72 percent saying that immigrants "take jobs Americans don't want."
Produced by Todd Krainin. Written and narrated by Nick Gillespie. Camera by Jim Epstein.