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Exposing their lies about immigrants

May 12, 2006 | Page 5

THE RIGHT wing carries out its scapegoating of immigrants by spreading distortions and outright lies--from the claim that undocumented workers come to the U.S. to live off welfare, to the idea that they steal the jobs of native-born workers. Here, NICOLE COLSON looks at some of the common myths perpetuated by the anti-immigrant right, and gives you the facts you need to dismantle them.

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MYTH
"Illegal" immigrants from Mexico and Latin America are overrunning the U.S.-Mexico border.

"[T]he bottom line is...there is a movement in this country to wipe out 'white privilege' and to have the browning of America."
--Bill O'Reilly, The Radio Factor, April 12, 2006

FACT
Setting aside the fact that right-wingers like O'Reilly feel bold enough today to openly advocate the racist idea of "white privilege," the truth is that only a small percentage of crossings over the U.S.-Mexico border each year are by undocumented immigrants.

Approximately 250 million people cross the U.S.-Mexico border each year, making it the most traversed border in the world. Almost all of the crossings are legal, for purposes of work, shopping, tourism, etc. Less than 1 percent of crossings--somewhere between 1 and 2 million per year--occur without authorization.

Overall, according to U.S. government figures, the vast majority of immigrants who enter the U.S. each year travel legally.

The Department of Homeland Security estimates that 75 percent of immigrants in the U.S. have legal permanent visas. Of the estimated 25 percent who are undocumented, a large portion--as much as half, according to a 2004 report by the General Accounting Office--didn't cross the border "illegally," but simply overstayed temporary visas.

Overall, the U.S., the wealthiest nation on the planet, takes in only about 2 percent of the world's total immigrant population. And today, the percentage of the U.S. population that is foreign-born is lower than it was 100 years ago.

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MYTH
Increasing border security and building a bigger wall will stop the flood of immigrants who cross easily into the U.S.

"I'd build a wall. In fact, I'd hire illegal immigrants to build the wall and throw out the illegals who are here."
--Ann Coulter, The O'Reilly Factor, April 13, 2006

FACT
Undocumented immigrants are forced to come to the U.S. by poverty, and taller fences and more border guards won't stop them.

The bipartisan push--both during the years of Bill Clinton's presidency, and today under George Bush--for more "border control" has only victimized undocumented immigrants by forcing them to seek increasingly remote and dangerous points to cross the border.

Under the Clinton administration's "Operation Gatekeeper," the Immigration and Naturalization Service (today called Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and the Border Patrol began a new strategy of border enforcement called "prevention through deterrence."

In the past, the Border Patrol had concentrated on catching undocumented immigrants when they crossed the border. The idea now became to frighten them into not attempting to cross at all--by implementing a series of military-like "improvements" to border control, including increased numbers of guards, underground sensors, infrared night scopes and large sections of fortress-like walls with flood lighting.

But while "prevention through deterrence" succeeded in slowing border crossings in highly populated urban areas, it forced more and more migrants into taking larger risks in remote terrain.

According to a report in the Houston Chronicle, while the desert around Tucson, Ariz., is today crawling with 2,400 U.S. Border Patrol agents and an unknown number of rifle-bearing "Minutemen" vigilantes, rather than stopping the flow of undocumented immigrants, this has simply forced people to cross further out into the desert.

That includes places like Yuma, Ariz., where daytime temperatures routinely reach 120 degrees--and where migrants can walk as far as 50 miles before reaching an interstate, or sometimes find themselves trapped on the Barry M. Goldwater Bombing Range for the U.S. Air Force. Migrant deaths for the Yuma sector hit a record 51 in 2005, up from 36 in 2004 and 15 in 2003.

Since 1994, according to experts, Operation Gatekeeper has caused the deaths of approximately 4,000 people along the border. And the numbers are going up. For the last fiscal year, the Border Patrol reported 473 migrant deaths along the entire U.S.-Mexico border.

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MYTH
Undocumented immigrants don't pay taxes or contribute to the U.S. economy, and instead take advantage of social welfare programs.

"Controlling illegal immigration is also an issue of fairness to American taxpayers. Is it fair if people are using public services like schools and roads, but are not paying taxes?"
--Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman, May 4, 2006

FACT
The myth of "lazy" immigrants cheating U.S. taxpayers and living off welfare couldn't be farther from the truth.

According to a 2004 study by the Urban Policy Institute, virtually all undocumented men--96 percent--and 62 percent of undocumented women are in the workforce. According to a March report from the Pew Hispanic Center, of the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., 7.2 million were employed in March 2005, making up approximately 4.9 percent of the labor force in the U.S.

Overall, immigrants--both documented and undocumented--are a huge boon to the U.S. economy. And as for what's "fair," the U.S. government takes far more from undocumented immigrants than it ever gives back.

In 2001, then-Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan testified before Congress that in the state of Illinois alone, "[undocumented] workers pay $547 million in taxes yearly, compared to $238 million in services used"--a net "profit" for Illinois of $309 million. And according to a report in last year's New York Times, each year, undocumented immigrants pay an estimated $7 billion more than they get from Social Security and $1.5 billion more than they get from Medicare.

The Internal Revenue Service issues "Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers" (ITINs) to allow undocumented workers to pay income taxes. Since 1996, 9.2 million of these numbers have been handed out. According to the Los Angeles Times, last year, 1.2 million people paid taxes using ITINs.

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MYTH
Undocumented immigrants "steal" jobs from U.S.-born workers--particularly from low-income and Black workers.

"[T]here are between 7 and 15 million working illegal immigrants diluting our labor pool. If illegal immigrants could no longer work, unions would flourish, the minimum wage would rise, and oligarchic nations to our south would have to confront and fix their corrupt ways."
--Thom Hartmann, Common Dreams, March 29, 2006

FACT
Wages are kept low not by undocumented immigrants, but by corporations that have carried out a one-side war on U.S. workers since the 1970s.

Liberals like Hartmann who accept the idea that undocumented immigrants are the cause of low wages are doing a disservice to the fight for better jobs. They are setting undocumented immigrants against other groups of workers--and in pursuit of an argument that is simply not true.

According to an analysis of data from the 2000 Census by the American Immigration Law Foundation, employment in about one-third of all U.S. job categories would have contracted anyway during the 1990s without recently arrived, noncitizen immigrant workers--even if all unemployed U.S.-born workers with recent job experience in those categories had been reemployed.

According to a November report in USA Today, job and wage growth in 10 U.S. inner cities with high immigrant populations outpaced job and wage growth in their broader metropolitan statistical areas.

It's true that immigrants--in particular, undocumented immigrants--tend to earn considerably less than working U.S. citizens. However, according to a 2004 study by the Urban Policy Institute, undocumented workers make up less than 10 percent of the 43 million low-wage workers in the United States.

The idea that 4 million undocumented workers are somehow responsible for keeping down the wages of the other 39 million low-wage workers is nonsensical--and only pits groups of workers against each other.

This claim also ignores the fact that immigrants, both documented and undocumented, are helping take the lead in one of the most important things that can actually raise wages for all low-wage workers--building a stronger union movement.

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MYTH
The U.S. welcomes immigrants, if they come here legally.

"Illegal aliens and their supporters say they are marching today in support of what they call immigrant rights...But they fail to distinguish in their fight for illegal immigration this country's rich tradition of legal, not illegal, immigration."
--CNN anchor Lou Dobbs, Lou Dobbs Tonight, April 10

FACT
The history of the U.S. is riddled with hostility to various immigrant groups--though only during certain waves of immigration.

Until the post-Civil War period, the U.S. had no immigration laws. The racist Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882--passed after an industrial strike wave--was part of an attempt to craft a deliberate immigration policy of keeping out "undesirables."

In the early 1900s, a wave of anti-Japanese violence led to a 1907 agreement barring Japanese laborers--a deal made after newspapers like the San Francisco Chronicle warned of an invasion of "bumptious, disagreeable and unreliable" Japanese.

The U.S. carried out mass deportations of Mexicans during the Great Depression, and in a 1954 program actually called Operation Wetback in 1954. Today, both documented and undocumented immigrants in the U.S. face the uncertainty of random raids and deportations, the threat of separation from their families and increased exploitation on the job.

And forget about all men being "created equal. Under an April 29, 2003 Supreme Court ruling, even legal immigrants don't have the same due process rights as citizens. "Congress may make rules as to aliens that would be unacceptable if applied to citizens," then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist declared in upholding a law permitting the federal government to detain immigrants indefinitely if they have been arrested and convicted of a crime.

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