Debunking Myths About Poverty and Immigration

By | Jul 11, 2011

Blame immigration for poverty issues?  Yes. This sounds about right.

Throughout United States history, immigrants have been used as the scapegoats for everything that is wrong with our country, including their influence on poverty.  The fact is however, poverty is a result of many things, but to solely blame immigration policy (or lack thereof), is both preposterous and irresponsible.

As we conclude another Fourth of July celebration, reaching our 235th year of existence, the United States dwells in the shame of its own past.  A nation built on the backs of hard working immigrants; we find ourselves once again upholding misconceptions about immigration, myths that have been debunked time and time again.

Today, we are faced with a shrinking economy, rising food and gas prices, low wages and families struggling to make ends meet.  But like generations before us, who faced periods of despair resembling those of today, we are choosing not to learn from our past, but rather focus our frustrations on these misconceptions which only prove us wrong in the end.

Myth #1 – Immigrants don’t pay taxes

False. In fact, immigrants are known to pay more taxes then US corporations!  Indeed, Senator Bernie Sanders, an Independent from Vermont, recently pointed out ten major companies who have paid no taxes.

To call immigrants, parasites, is an exaggeration.  From my perspective it looks as if companies like Exxon Mobil (which is currently dealing with a major spill in Montana) and most embarrassingly, General Electric, did all they could to get paid “off the books.”

According to the Congressional Budget Office and the Social Security Administration, undocumented immigrants actually pay all kinds of taxes, including sales, property and social security taxes on individual income.  Officially, seventy five percent (75%) of undocumented workers contributed to Social Security and Medicare.

So who is the freeloader now?

Myth #2 – Immigrants steal jobs from American workers

Last week, I wrote a piece about Jose Antonio Vargas on my blog, who told an important story about himself and his life as an undocumented professional living in the shadow of a broken immigration system.

Mr. Vargas is a professional reporter who exemplifies what many would call the American Dream. But because he does not own a piece of paper that states he is an American citizen, he is delegitimized and his accomplishments are nothing more than a reminder of who he could be if he had had the privilege of being born “American.”

Despite this year old report on American’s supporting highly skilled immigrants; I am astounded at how negatively people have responded to Mr. Vargas’s post.  What we get instead of praise is, “he stole an American job.”

Quite the contrary, immigrants play a very important role in offsetting the decline in number of native born, low-wage earners.  They also provide additional support where high-tech workers are needed.  It is correct to say that immigrants work the jobs American’s do not want.

Myth #3 – Immigrants use up all social services, leaving nothing for Americans

Before social media, in the time when people sent email “forwards” to share news, I actually received a chain email stating “Illegal immigrants cost $338.3 billion dollars a year, more than the war in Iraq.”

Coincidentally, factcheck.org received versions of the same chain email and took the time to, well…fact check.

Yes, undocumented immigrants do cost the United States money, but to exaggerate the numbers in an effort to influence anti-immigrant rhetoric is irresponsible.  Immigrants provide more to the country then what many think.

The best resource we have to prove this is from the Social Security Administration, which estimates that two-thirds of undocumented immigrants paid into the system in 2007.

More astounding is the report author’s conclusion that, “the irony is that the restrictionists are mostly older or retired whites from longtime American families, the very people who benefit the most from Social Security payments from unauthorized immigrants.”

The immigration debate is one that will not end quietly and perhaps may never end.  But as someone who follows the issue closely, it is important to also understand the impact the issue has on all Americans.

To have a thoughtful discussion on this issue, it is imperative to move past antiquated misconceptions and pursue the issue in terms that fit the dialogue.  By doing so, we may finally have a solution to fixing a broken immigration system and focus on eliminating poverty.

Photo credit: SEIU