Historically, immigrants have been burdened with a disproportionate amount of blame for many of society’s problems based on false assumptions and stereotypes - immigrants take jobs away from hard working native-born Americans; drain America’s health care and educational resources; and increase our criminal rates. However, time and time again these stereotypes have proven false. Numerous independent studies have confirmed that immigrants contribute to the overall health of our economy, do not strain our health care system and are less likely to commit crimes or be behind bars than native-born Americans.
Most recently, a California study by the Public Policy Institute of California confirmed that immigration is not linked to crime. In fact the report appears to indicate that the opposite is true. According to the report, both the rates for incarceration in state prisons and institutionalization show lower rates among foreign-born Californians. Specifically, the report found that native-born men have a institutionalization rate that is 10 times higher that that of foreign born men. Institutionalization not only includes incarceration in prisons, but also in detention in jails, admission to halfway houses and other programs to address criminal activity.
What may be more surprising is that the report noted that although immigrants are likely to be young and male, and are also more likely to have lower levels of education (traditionally a population with higher levels of criminal activity) they are far less likely to be behind bars or to commit crimes. Furthermore, the report found that teenage immigrants are much less likely than native-born teenagers to engage in risk behaviors such as delinquency, violence and substance abuse that often lead to incarceration.
Similarly, neighborhoods with larger populations of immigrants are associated with lower violence - not increased crime according to a March study by Harvard sociologist Robert Sampson. The study’s findings are consistent with national historic trends indicating America’s periods of high immigration coincided with America’s periods of low levels of crime. As demonstrated over and over again, immigrants are less likely than the average United States native-born citizen to commit crimes.
Another stereotype is that immigrants hurt America’s economy by accepting to be paid under the table and drain our health care and educational resources without paying taxes. Like the stereotype about immigrants and crime, this stereotype is also false. The truth is that immigrants contribute to the overall prosperity of our economy. Indeed, repeated studies have found that undocumented immigrants, and immigrants in general, are net contributors to the tax base and economies of many states and localities. For example, according to a report by the Immigration Policy Center, immigrants use relatively few federal or state public benefit programs; do not strain America’s health care system; are a net fiscal benefit to the U.S. economy; and pay more taxes and contribute to the social security system than they consume in public benefits. Even more recently, the White House issued a report with three key findings: 1) immigrants tend to complement natural born citizens, raising their productivity and income; 2) immigration has a positive influence on America’s long-run fiscal effect on our nation and 3) skilled immigrants contribute to innovation and have a significant positive fiscal impact. As the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors found, “immigrants not only help fuel the Nation's economic growth, but also have an overall positive effect on the income of native-born workers.”
There are real dangers and severe consequences for society to blindly accept the myths that immigrants are more prone to criminality and are a drain on our economy. Although it has been delayed, comprehensive immigration reform is still a real possibility and it is important that the public and politicians have accurate and reliable information. The immigration debate needs to rise above historical hysterics and must be reasoned and well informed. According to Professor Kristin Butcher, co-author of the California study by the Public Policy Institute of California, “limiting immigration, requiring higher educational levels to obtain visas, or spending more money to increase penalties against criminal immigrants will have little impact on public safety.” To be sure, unreasonable fear and misinformation will not create sound policy. Reeves & Associates is not only committed to providing its clients with accurate and reliable immigration advice, but R&A is also committed to sharing with the community the truth about immigrants.
Author's Note: The analysis and suggestions offered in this column do not create a lawyer-client relationship and are not a substitute for the individual legal research and personalized representation that is essential to every case.