Confronting Six Misconceptions: A Report by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services

1. “Immigrants don’t want to learn English.”

FALSE. The development of English proficiency among non-English speaking immigrants today mirrors that of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century immigration, when masses of Italian, German, and Eastern European immigrants came to the U.S. Though first-generation, non-English speaking immigrants predictably have lower rates of English proficiency than native speakers, 91 percent of second generation immigrants are fluent or near-fluent English speakers. By the third generation, 97 percent speak English with fluency or near-fluency.

2. “Immigrants don’t pay taxes.”

FALSE. Undocumented immigrants pay taxes. Between one-half and three-quarters of undocumented immigrants pay state and federal taxes. They also contribute to Medicare and provide as much as $7 billion a year to the Social Security fund. Further still, undocumented workers pay sales taxes where applicable and property taxes – directly if they own and indirectly if they rent.

3. “Immigrants increase the crime rate.”

FALSE. Recent research has shown that immigrant communities do not increase the crime rate and that immigrants commit fewer crimes than native-born Americans. While the undocumented immigrant population doubled from 1994 to 2005, violent crime dropped by 34 percent and property crimes decreased by 32 percent. Harvard sociologist Robert Sampson has found that first-generation immigrants are 45 percent less likely to commit violent crimes than Americanized, third-generation immigrants.

4. “Immigrants take jobs away from Americans.”

FALSE. A recent study produced by the Pew Hispanic Center says “rapid increases in the foreign- born population at the state level are not associated with negative effects on the employment of native- born workers.” In fact, given that the number of native-born low-wage earners is falling nationally, immigrants are playing an important role in offset- ting that decline. The Urban Institute reports that between 2000 and 2005 the total number of low- wage workers declined by approximately 1.8 million while the number of unskilled immigrant workers increased by 620,000, thus offsetting the total decline by about a third.

5. “Immigrants are a drain on the U.S. economy.”

FALSE. The immigrant community is not a drain on the U.S. economy but, in fact, proves to be a net benefit. Research reported by both the CATO Institute and the President’s Council of Economic Advisors reveals that the average immigrant pays a net $80,000 more in taxes than an immigrant collects in government services. For immigrants with college degrees the net fiscal return is $198,000. Furthermore, the American Farm Bureau asserts that without guest workers the U.S. economy would lose as much as $9 billion a year in agricultural production and 20 percent of current production would go overseas.

6. “undocumented immigrants are a burden on the health care system.”

FALSE. Federal, state and local governments spend approximately $1.1 billion annually on health care costs for undocumented immigrants, aged 18-64, or approximately $11 in taxes for each U.S. household. This compares to $88 billion spent on all health care for non-elderly adults in the U.S. in 2000. Foreign-born individuals tend to use fewer health care services because they are relatively healthier than their native-born counterparts. For example, in Los Angeles County, “total medical spending on undocumented immigrants was $887 million in 2000 – 6 percent of total costs, although un- documented immigrants comprise 12 percent of the region’s residents.”

For sources for all these findings and further information, see