Myths About Undocumented Immigrants

People worry that illegal Mexican immigrants are overrunning the country, bringing crime and violence with them across the border. They feel that jobs and services are being stolen from American citizens by “wetbacks” who pay no taxes. They think immigrants come to the U.S. mainly to obtain welfare and other benefits. Some of the illegal immigrants, they are sure, belong to terrorist groups.

MYTH #1.  Mexican immigrants are overrunning our country and most are here illegally.

The percentage of immigrants in the overall U.S. population is not much different than at other times in our history. Today, immigrants make up 13% of the total U.S. population. From 1900 to 1930, they made up 12% to 15% of the population. More than 60% of immigrants in the U.S. today have lived here for over 15 years, and most have lawful status. In 2014 there were 11.3 million undocumented immigrants living and working in the U.S.—a decrease from the 12.2 million in 2007. Today, the net migration from Mexico (number entering from Mexico minus the number leaving) is about zero.

MYTH #2. Immigrants bring crime and violence into the U.S.

Immigrants have proven to be less likely than native-born citizens to commit crimes or be jailed. Overall crime rates are lowest in states with the highest immigration growth rates.

MYTH #3. Immigrants take jobs and services from Americans without paying taxes.

U.S. immigrants actually help create new jobs. In addition to buying American and local products, which helps create jobs, immigrants often start their own businesses. When they do, they have been found to hire more employees than native-born citizens. States with large numbers of immigrants report lower unemployment overall.

MYTH #4. Immigrants come to the U.S. to obtain welfare and other benefits.

Studies have shown that on average immigrants pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits. With few exceptions, undocumented immigrants are not eligible for federal public benefits such as Medicaid and food stamps, even though Social Security is often being deducted from their paychecks.

MYTH #5. Immigrants bring diseases into the U.S.

Epidemiologic studies of immigrants do not support this myth. Immigrant children are more likely to be vaccinated for some diseases such as measles than American children (99% vs. 92%, respectively).

MYTH #6. Terrorists infiltrate the U.S. by coming across the Mexican border.

The Department of Homeland Security has said that “the suggestion that individuals with ties to terrorist groups have been apprehended at the southwest border is categorically false, and not supported by any credible intelligence or fact.” (The vast majority of U.S. residents linked to terrorism since 2002 are U.S. citizens.)

MYTH #7. All undocumented immigrants are individuals who have crossed the Mexican border illegally.

Between one third and one half of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. have overstayed their visitor, student, or work visas. That means that they entered the U.S. with lawful documentation and only later became undocumented.

MYTH #8. A border wall with Mexico would stop undocumented immigration.

A border wall would be impractical and ineffective. The border is almost 2000 miles long, spanning difficult terrain including mountains and rivers. From the Great Wall of China to the Berlin Wall, history shows us that people always find ways to cross walls. The most likely effect is to increase the prices that smugglers charge.

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