Dispelling the Myths About Immigrants

MYTH: Immigrants take jobs away from Americans.

FACT:     Immigrants create at least as many jobs as they fill.  Numerous studies show that immigrants are more likely to be self-employed and start new businesses than the native-born, and immigrants fill jobs that the native-born are either unwilling or unable to undertake, especially in the labor-intensive service/industrial sectors and in the high-technology/computer sectors.

MYTH:  Immigration is a drain on the U.S. economy.

FACT:  Immigration grows the U.S. economy.  An estimated 17.4 million immigrants are currently working in the U.S.—accounting for 12.4% of the total civilian labor force.  A recent study by the National Immigration Forum showed that the average immigrant pays $1800 more in taxes than he/she receives in benefits.  Immigrants also have a positive effect on the U.S. economy by creating businesses and generating employment.  Furthermore, the U.S. also attracts a significant number of enterprising, innovative, and well-educated foreign nationals.  These immigrants help keep the U.S. internationally competitive and give U.S. businesses a more global perspective—an outlook that is becoming increasingly necessary in this era of globalization.

MYTH:  Immigrants abuse the Social Security and welfare systems.

FACT:  Immigrants contribute more in taxes than they receive in benefits.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 1999 fewer than one in seven foreign-born householders received benefits such as food stamps and housing assistance.

However, immigrant use of these assistance programs is largely concentrated among refugees and elderly immigrants.  Most immigrants are young and healthy when they arrive—their average age is 28.  Immigrants are large contributors to—rather than recipients of—Social Security, and will play an integral role in financing Social Security as the U.S. population ages.

MYTH:  Immigrants cause urban problems

FACT:  About half of the immigrant population lives in a central city in a metropolitan area. More often than not, they settle in neighborhoods that have fallen into disrepair.  The stories are legion how new immigrants start new businesses and revitalize urban centers.  Dominican immigrants revitalized Washington Heights in Manhattan’s Upper West Side, and an array of new arrivals reclaimed Nicollet Avenue in south Minneapolis.  Those examples are repeated hundreds of times across the country.  According to the Alexis de Tocqueville Institute, a study carried out over an 18-year period in Washington DC revealed that there is a positive correlation between the number of immigrants in a neighborhood and increasing property values.  As one real-estate agent put it, with immigration “there goes the neighborhood—up.”

MYTH:  There is a higher percentage of immigrants in the U.S. now than ever before in U.S. history.


FACT:  The number of immigrants currently living in the U.S. has reached unprecedented levels, but as a percentage—10.4% of the U.S. population is currently foreign-born—the number is lower than previous peak immigration periods.  Immigrants represented 14.8% of the population in 1890 and 14.7% in 1910.  Currently, more than 70% of immigrants settle in six states—California, New York, Florida, Texas, New Jersey, and Illinois.  European immigrants—historically a large portion of immigration to the U.S—today make up 15.3% of newcomers; 51% come from Latin America; 25.5% come from Asia; and 8.1% from other parts of the world.  The top ten countries of immigration to the U.S. are Mexico, China, the Philippines, India, Cuba, Vietnam, El Salvador, Korea, the Dominican Republic, and Canada.

MYTH:  The United States is being overrun with illegal immigrants.

FACT:  The estimated number of illegal aliens living in the U.S. ranges from 5 to 8 million.  This accounts for approximately 2% of the U.S. population.  About half of those undocumented immigrants came legally to this country and became illegal by remaining here after their visas expire.

MYTH:  Most immigrants to the United States are illegal, undocumented aliens who come only for economic reasons.

FACT:  According to the INS, 849,807 immigrants were legally admitted to the U.S in 2000.  Economics played a role in those arrivals, but family, work, and basic freedoms are also significant considerations influencing people’s decision to come to this country.  Of the immigrants coming legally to the U.S. in 2000, 69% came to be reunited with immediate family members (parents, children, siblings, or spouses), 13% were sponsored by U.S. employers to fill in positions for which no U.S. worker is available, and an additional 8% came as refugees or asylees, fleeing persecution and looking for safety and freedom in the U.S.  Like generations of immigrants before them, these immigrants came to this country looking for a better life, and their energy and ideas enrich all our communities.

Sources: Alexis de Tocqueville Institute, American Immigration Lawyers Association;  Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; CATO Institute;  Center for Immigration Studies (2001); Immigration and Naturalization Service (2000); National Immigration Forum; The Urban Institute;  U.S. Census Bureau (2000).