Top 4 Myths about Immigration

by Joseph McKeown


Although Paul Ryan, the newly-elected House of Representatives Speaker, ruled out working with President Obama on comprehensive immigration reform, the call for reform continues, this time from Robert Reich, political economist and former labor secretary. Reich along with MoveOn.org released a short video addressing four common myths about immigration.

Myth: Immigrants Take Away American Jobs

Not true, Reich says. “Immigrants add to economic demand, and thereby push firms to create more jobs,” he says. Although Reich doesn’t cite it in the video, a study using US census data backs this claim. The report, by the National Bureau of Economic Research, shows that each immigrant creates 1.2 local jobs for local workers, with most of these created jobs going to native workers. In addition, immigrants appear to raise “local non-tradeables sector wages” as well as attract native-born workers from elsewhere in the country.

Myth: We Don’t Need Any More Immigrants

To counter this claim, Reich ties the importance of immigration to funding for American retirees. Twenty-five years ago each retiree in America was matched by five workers. Now it’s three workers for each retiree. “Without more immigration,” Reich says, “in fifteen years the ratio will fall to two workers for every retiree, which is not nearly enough to sustain our retiring population.” More specifically, it’s estimated that undocumented immigrant workers in particular are paying an estimated $13 billion a year in social security taxes for a total of over $100 billion in the last decade.

Myth: Immigrants Are a Drain on Public Budgets

Not so, Reich says. Immigrants pay taxes. The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy shows that undocumented immigrants paid over eleven billion in state and local taxes in 2012. If comprehensive immigration reform were passed, their combined nationwide state and local tax contributions would increase by another 2.2 billion. Although a study by anti-immigration group, Center for Immigration Studies, concluded that fifty-one percent of households headed by immigrants—legal or undocumented—receive some kind of welfare, this report was criticized for its research methods, and other reports show that immigrants pay more into public benefits than they receive back.

Myth: Legal and Illegal Immigration Is Increasing

The number of undocumented immigrants living in the US has declined from 12.2 million in 2007 to 11.3 million now, according to the Pew Research Center. Other reports confirm this decrease in immigration as well.

Reich concludes: “Don’t listen to the demagogues who want to blame the economic problems of middle class and poor on new immigrants, whether here legally or illegally.” He concludes: “We need to pass comprehensive immigration reform giving those who are undocumented a path to citizenship. Scapegoating them and other immigrants is shameful. And it’s just plain wrong.”