Becoming American: Why Immigration Is Good for Our Nation's Future (2 page)

BOOK: Becoming American: Why Immigration Is Good for Our Nation's Future
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MYTH #2: ALL IMMIGRANTS WANT TO COME TO THE UNITED STATES

Only twenty years ago, many ambitious immigrants considered America to be the most promising destination. Today, this is no longer the case. At approximately 20 and 26 percent of their total populations, Canada and Australia, respectively, both have significantly higher rates of foreign-born residents than does the United States. Simpler immigration policies and more welcoming environments could explain why many foreign-born people are electing to move to those countries. In fact, Canada has actively solicited immigrants for years.

MYTH #3: AMERICA ALREADY ATTRACTS THE BEST AND BRIGHTEST IMMIGRANTS

America is no longer the forerunner for attracting the brightest people from around the world. In contrast to countries such as Canada, New Zealand, and Australia, the United States has a higher proportion of low-skilled rather than high-skilled immigrants. Nearly 30 percent of immigrants in the United States have a low level of education, and only 35 percent obtain a high level of education. In Canada, only 22 percent of immigrants possess a low level of education, while more than 46 percent of immigrants obtain a high level of education.
2

One of the main reasons the United States does not attract high-skilled immigrants stems from the backbone of U.S. immigration policy. Countries such as Canada see a greater influx of immigrants with higher education levels and specialized skills through immigration policies that support visa applicants with advanced degrees or work experience. When granting permanent residence, U.S. policies favor family relationships.

Although the United States educates some of the best and brightest—the United States granted about five hundred thousand F-1 student visas in 2012—its employment visa, H-1B, is capped at a much smaller number. That same year, only 150,000 H-1B employment visas were granted.
3

MYTH #4: IMMIGRANTS ARE A DRAIN ON THE ECONOMY

Possibly the largest and most insistent immigration myth is that immigrants are a drain on the U.S. economy. Immigrants generate revenue through buying power and through paying taxes, as well as by creating jobs in America.

Immigration on a whole has increased the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP). According to a 2007 report from the White House Council of Economic Advisers, immigrants are responsible for increasing the U.S. GDP by approximately $37 billion each year.
4
A cost estimate by the Congressional Budget Office in 2007 found a path to legalization for unauthorized immigrants would cost public services about $23 billion but, in turn, would increase federal revenues by $48 billion. This produces a surplus of $25 billion for the U.S. government.
5
Additionally, according to a Social Security Administration trustees report, increases in immigration have improved Social Security’s finances.
6

Although many undocumented immigrants currently pay lower taxes because they work off the books, their purchasing power allots for the sustainment of hundreds of thousand of U.S. jobs. One study estimates that Latino buying power totaled $951 billion in 2008 and would increase to $1.4 trillion by 2013, while Asian buying power totaled $509.1 billion in 2008 and is expected to increase to $752.3 billion by 2013.
7

Immigrants have also played a key role in job creation. In 2012, immigrants founded 42 percent of America’s Fortune 500 companies.
8
These companies have created over ten million jobs and have generated $4.5 trillion of annual revenue, which is about 30 percent of the U.S. GDP.
9
Additionally, according to the Fiscal Policy Institute, immigrant-owned small businesses generated a total of $776 billion in receipts and employed an estimated 4.7 million people in 2007.
10

MYTH #5: IMMIGRANTS ARE A THREAT TO NATIONAL SECURITY (THAT IS, THE WAR ON TERRORISM CAN BE WON THROUGH IMMIGRATION RESTRICTIONS)

Since September 11, 2001, we have dramatically strengthened our borders through the use of biometrics at ports of entry, of secure cargo-shipment systems, of intelligence gathering, of integrated databases, and of increased international cooperation. Nonetheless, since 9/11, no security authority has said the terrorist attacks could have been thwarted with more suppressive immigration measures. Rather, the key is good use of good intelligence. Most of the 9/11 hijackers were here on legal visas. Since 9/11, the multiple measures targeting immigrants under the cloak of national security has resulted in zero terrorism prosecutions. In fact, several of these measures could have the opposite effect and actually make us less safe, as targeted communities of immigrants are scared to bring information forward.
11

MYTH #6: IMMIGRANTS DO NOT WANT TO LEARN ENGLISH

Learning English is perhaps the most important factor in successful immigrant integration. Opponents of immigration often argue that immigrants do not want to learn English. This is certainly not the case, as nearly all immigrants recognize that English leads to upward mobility. When the Pew Hispanic Center report asked Latino immigrants whether they “need to learn English to succeed in the United States, or they can succeed even if they speak Spanish,” 89 percent of Hispanics in the poll said they need to learn English.
12

Non-English-speaking immigrants today learn the language at a similar rate of those who immigrated from Italy, Germany, and Eastern Europe during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Though first-generation immigrants who do not speak English have lower rates of language proficiency than native speakers, 91 percent of second-generation immigrants are almost fluent. This percentage increases six points when considering the third generation.
13

MYTH #7: MANY IMMIGRANTS ARE CRIMINALS

Immigrants in the United States have nearly always been associated with crime. Case in point: a Google search for “immigration + crime” immediately returns 57.2 million hits.
14
Yet immigrants have the lowest crime rates of any other demographic group in the United States.

In fact, “the incarceration rate of the U.S. born (3.51 percent) was four times the rate of the foreign born (0.86 percent).”
15
“The foreign-born rate was half the 1.71 percent rate for non-Hispanic white natives, and 13 times less than the 11.6 percent incarceration rate for native black men.”
16

According to a 2008 report from the conservative Americas Majority Foundation,
17
crime rates are lowest in states with the highest immigration growth rates. “From 1999 to 2006, the total crime rate declined 13.6 percent in the 19 highest-immigration states, compared to a 7.1 percent decline in the other 32 states.”
18

Many of these myths will be addressed in more depth later in this book. But I hope by presenting them up front, I have helped to establish a foundation through which you can consider the rest of my narrative and the stories of other immigrants.

NOTES

1. “A Nation of Immigrants,” Pew Research Hispanic Trends Project, January 29, 2013,
http://www.pewhispanic.org/2013/01/29/a-nation-of-immigrants/
(accessed July 14, 2013).

2. Fariborz Ghadar, “Dispel the Immigration Myths,”
CNN.com
, December 11, 2012,
http://www.cnn.com/2012/12/11/opinion/ghadar-immigration-policy
(accessed July 14, 2013).

3. Randall Monger and James Yankay, “U.S. Legal Permanent Residents: 2012,”
Department of Homeland Security: Annual Flow Report
, March 2013,
http://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/ois_lpr_fr_2012_2.pdf
(accessed July 10, 2013).

4. “Immigration’s Economic Impact,” The White House Council of Economic Advisors, June 20, 2007,
http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/cea/cea_immigration_062007.html
(accessed July 15, 2013).

5. Michael Greenstone and Adam Looney, “Ten Economic Facts about Immigration,” The Hamilton Project, September 2010,
www.brookings.edu/~/media/research/files/reports/2010/9/immigration%20greenstone%20looney/09_immigration
(accessed July 10, 2013).

6. Ghadar, “Dispel the Immigration Myths.”

7. Jeffrey M. Humphreys, “The Multicultural Economy 2008,”
Georgia Business and Economic Conditions
68, no. 3 (2008): 1, 2, 3, 4.

8. “The ‘New American’ Fortune 500,” Partnership for a New American Economy, June 2011,
www.renewoureconomy.org/2011_06_15_1
(accessed July 10, 2013).

9. “FactSet Data—FactSet Research Systems,” Financial Research, Investment Analytics Tools—FactSet Research Systems,
http://www.factset.com/data/factset_data
(accessed July 10, 2013).

10. Cecilia Muñoz, Gene Sperling, Alan Krueger, and Sylvia Mathews Burwell, “The Economic Benefits of Fixing Our Broken Immigration System,”
White House Blog
, July 10, 2013,
http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2013/07/10/economic-benefits-fixing-our-broken-immigration-system
(accessed July 10, 2013).

11. “10 Immigration Myths Busted,” Christian Reformed Church Office of Social Justice,
http://www2.crcna.org/pages/osj_immigrationmyths.cfm
(accessed August 18, 2013).

12. Havovi Cooper, “Immigrants Should Learn English,”
Businessweek.com
,
http://www.businessweek.com/debateroom/archives/2008/08/immigrants_should_learn_english.html
(accessed July 15, 2013).

13. “Countering the Myths,”
Justice for Immigrants.org
,
www.justiceforimmigrants.org/myths.shtml
(accessed July 15, 2013).

14. Mathieu Deflem,
Sociology of Crime Law and Deviance
series,
EmeraldInsight.com
,
www.emeraldinsight.com/books.htm?chapterid=1791225&show=html
(accessed July 14, 2013).

15. “Beyond Myths and Stereotypes: Facts about Immigration and Crime,” Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA),
http://chirla.org/files/FactsheetImmigrationanCrime.pdf
(accessed July 14, 2013).

16. Rubén G. Rumbaut and Walter A. Ewing, “The Myth of Immigrant Criminality and the Paradox of Assimilation: Incarceration Rates among Native and Foreign-Born Men,” Immigration Policy Center, Spring 2007,
www.derechoshumanosaz.net/images/pdfs/the%20myth%20of%20immigrant%20criminality%20and%20the%20paradox%20of%20assimilation.pdf
(accessed July 13, 2013).

17. Salvatore Colleluori, “Fox News Amplifies Fabricated Link between Immigrants and Crime,” Media Matters for America.com, June 18, 2013,
mediamatters.org/research/2013/06/18/fox-news-amplifies-fabricated-link-between-immi/194504
(accessed July 14, 2013).

18. “‘They Take Our Jobs’—Debunking Immigration Myths,”
SEIU.org
,
Service Employees International Union,
http://www.seiu.org/a/immigration/they-take-our -jobs-debunking-immigration-myths.php
(accessed July 14, 2013).

3

How Did I Get Here?

J
ust like everyone else, my life has been a series of events, many outside of my control, which have carried me along like a feather meandering on a draft of air.

I don’t actually remember coming to the United States, as I was only a year old at the time, but I know from family stories that in 1948 my mother and I left Tehran to join my father, who was attending school at Michigan State University. However, my own immigrant journey did not end there; it turned out to be a long and winding one, and it was not until political upheaval in the country of my birth—and opportunity in America—that I became a U.S. citizen.

BOOK: Becoming American: Why Immigration Is Good for Our Nation's Future
12.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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