The Social Security Administration estimates that three-quarters of undocumented workers pay payroll taxes. They pay $6-7 billion in Social Security annually and they contribute $1.5 billion annually to Medicare. The Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at the University of California, San Diego found that 75% of undocumented immigrants had taxes withheld from their paychecks, filed tax returns, or both in 2006. Undocumented immigrants also pay property taxes, and they contribute to state and local governments by purchasing taxable goods and services.MYTH #2: Immigrants consume more government services than they pay in taxes.
The Executive Office of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers in its 2007 report, “Immigration’s Economic Impact,” cited a 1997 study by the National Research Council which stated that on average, all immigrants (legal and undocumented) will pay $80,000 more in taxes per capita than they consume in government benefits over their lifetime.
For undocumented immigrants alone, the picture is more complicated. The federal government tends to benefit because undocumented immigrants mainly pay federal taxes but they tend to use state and local services like schools, hospitals, and prisons. However, economists find that the burden on state and local budgets is marginal. In 2007, the Congressional Budget Office concluded that in most estimates, spending for undocumented immigrants on education, health care, and law enforcement accounted for less than 5% of total state and local spending for those services.MYTH #3: Immigrants take jobs from poor native-born Americans, depress native-born Americans’ wages, and cause higher unemployment.
Immigrants increase the economy’s total output, and native-born Americans benefit. A 2006 study by Berkeley economist G. Peri and Italian economist G. Ottaviano estimates that immigration raised average wages of native-born American workers by 0.7%-1.8% since 1990. The President’s Council of Economic Advisers estimates that American income gains from immigration are $30 billion per year because of complementarities in production. (For example, unskilled immigrant construction workers enable American contractors to build homes at a lower cost.)
Some studies have shown that the arrival of low-skilled foreign workers may have a negative effect on the wages of low-skilled native-born workers. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that an influx of low-skilled foreign workers could reduce wages of native-born high school dropouts by up to 4%. However, these two groups are not necessarily perfect substitutes in the labor market. Native-born low-skilled workers have knowledge – English proficiency, familiarity with the local geography – that gives them an advantage and may help them to secure better jobs.
Moreover, as native-born Americans become more educated, low-skilled immigrants supplement the workforce by performing jobs that natives will not do. At the beginning of the 20th century, 9 out of every 10 American adults lacked a high school diploma. Today, fewer than 10% of native-born workers do not have a high school diploma yet more than 60% of Mexican immigrants did not graduate from high school.
Berkeley economist David Card notes that new immigrant workers add to the supply of labor, but they also consume products and services, increasing the demand for labor. Therefore new immigrants do not necessarily cause higher unemployment.MYTH #4: Immigrants commit more crimes than native-born Americans.
Many studies show that in reality, immigrants commit fewer crimes than native-born Americans. A 2007 study by University of California, Irvine sociologist Rubén Rumbaut and Immigration Policy Center researcher Walter Ewing found that the incarceration rate for native-born men ages 18-39 (3.5%) was five times higher than the incarceration rate for immigrant men (0.7%) in 2000. Mexican immigrant men alone, who comprise the majority of undocumented immigrants (59%), had an incarceration rate of 0.7% as well. Salvadoran and Guatemalan men, many of whom are undocumented, had an even lower incarceration rate of 0.5%. Additionally, from 1994 to 2005, while the number of undocumented immigrants rose dramatically, violent crime declined by 34.2% and property crime declined by 26.4%.
Some studies cite the fact that immigrants make up 19% of the federal prison population. However, this is mainly because immigration violations – for example, not filing a change-of-address form or over-staying a visa – are prosecuted under federal jurisdiction. Moreover, the federal prison population makes up a very small segment (8%) of the nation-wide prison population, which is mostly housed in state prisons and local facilities; therefore 19% is not a representative number for the percentage of immigrants incarcerated in America.MYTH #5: Immigrants do not want to learn English.
In a Pew Hispanic Center survey, only 23% of Latino immigrants report speaking English “very well” yet 88% of their U.S.-born adult children speak English very well. The percentage rises to 94% among later generations of Latinos. Moreover, 96% of Latino immigrants believes that teaching English to children is “very important.” Unfortunately, many ESL programs are overbooked and overcrowded: 57.4% of ESL providers had waiting lists in 2006.