How Does Immigration Really Impact the U.S.?
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Immigration is a huge issue for many Americans, particularly the presence of illegal immigrants at the U.S.’s southern border. People are concerned about potential loss of jobs opportunities to immigrants, crime, drug smuggling, and overuse of the social safety net in support of individuals who are here illegally. What is the real status of immigration in America? Are these fears justified by reality?
The Recent Status of Legal and Illegal Immigration
The Trump administration enacted measures to try to reduce the flow of people crossing the southern border, including starting construction of a border wall. When the pandemic broke out, the decision was made to invoke Title 42, a measure based on a public health law from 1944 that allows the government to take emergency actions to prevent the entrance of communicable diseases into the U.S. The Trump administration invoked Title 42 to turn migrants away at the border and suspend their right to request asylum. (Prior to Title 42, migrants were able to cross the border illegally, then ask for asylum. They could be allowed to enter the US while they were screened and then often released to await their immigration case). Migrants were turned away under this policy more than 2.8 million times, although families and children traveling by themselves were exempt.
The Biden administration maintained Title 42 until it expired in May of 2023. Apprehensions of illegal crossings continued to rise, from 400,000 to 1.6 million in 2021, and then further to 2.2 million in 2022. Until Title 42 was allowed to expire, the Biden administration focused mainly on improving the processes for people to immigrate legally, as well as implementing greater punishments for people who entered illegally. Apprehensions dropped sharply in June after Title 42 expired, before increasing each month until they reached 220,000 in September.
To better understand the information above, here are a few explanatory facts:
- Contrary to some claims, there is no “open border” policy. America’s borders are not open. The current administration’s aim is to move away from the more draconian restrictions under the previous administration, while reworking the legal immigration system and maintaining deterrents to illegal immigration.
- The large number of apprehensions DOES NOT MEAN more people are sneaking across the border and into the country. This represents the number of people who were detained and/or apprehended trying to enter the country; in other words, they were caught and sent back.
- The vast majority of people seeking to immigrate to the United States are not looking to commit crimes or cause harm. They are people fleeing displacement by economic collapse and political upheaval in places like Venezuela and Central America. Many of these people want to enter the United States legally, but a combination of extended waiting times, limited capacity, and restrictions on mobility and locations lead many to attempt entering whether it’s legal or not.
What Is the Impact of Immigration in the U.S.?
Let’s look further into some prevailing beliefs about immigrants and illegal aliens:
- “Immigrants take jobs from Americans.” America is experiencing a workforce shortage, especially in low-skilled jobs that are often taken by new arrivals in this country. Several industries are dependent on the labor provided by immigrants, and unfilled job openings in agriculture, construction, hospitality, and restaurants contribute to an ongoing labor shortage. These sectors have seen hundreds of thousands of open jobs for months. The restaurant industry forecasts 14% growth that will exceed the 10% increase of the U.Ss-born labor force (14% versus 10%). Immigrant labor plays a role in filling that gap.
- “Immigrants are a drain on the economy.” There is a persistent notion that immigration has a negative impact on the American economy, but experts and studies conclude the opposite. Economists think immigration favors economic growth, and multiple studies have failed to find negative impacts of immigration on unemployment rates, job opportunities, or earnings. In 2020, around 77% of immigrants in the U.S. were here lawfully, or about 35.2 million people. These lawful immigrants also form a majority of the immigrant workforce: in 2017, of the 29 million immigrants working or searching for work in America, 21.2 million of them were here lawfully. As far as illegal immigrants draining money by taking part in the social safety net, federal policies bar illegal immigrants from participation or eligibility for several major programs.
- “Illegal aliens are dangerous because they engage in crime.” Available evidence suggests that immigrants and illegal immigrants are actually less likely to engage in crime than native-born Americans. Studies and research have found that immigrants don’t commit crimes at greater rates than native-born citizens, nor does the presence of larger immigrant populations create higher rates of violent crime. Illegal aliens are less likely to engage in crime than are American citizens. Notably, in a place like Texas which has a high concentration of immigrants, research found that undocumented immigrants were less than half as likely to be arrested for drug or violent crimes, and less than ¼ as likely to be arrested for property crimes, than American citizens in the state.
- “Illegal immigrants are often drug traffickers and smugglers, bringing dangerous drugs and criminality into America.” Actually, 77% of drug traffickers are U.S. citizens, not illegal immigrants, according to a report from the Cato Organization. The 23% that are illegal aliens or foreigners includes not just people in the U.S. illegally, but those in other countries engaged in smuggling drugs into the U.S. Furthermore, most drug smuggling does not take place through illegal border crossings: it occurs at legitimate ports of entry. Most drugs are easier to conceal in legal luggage than while crossing the Rio Grande or the deserts of Arizona. Port officers seized between 80 and 90 percent of every major drug type except for marijuana; they made nearly half of all seizures of marijuana in 2019.
Beware of Manipulation of Statistics
If immigration is not a danger to us and we are doing a good job of policing the borders, why do so many people believe differently?
Sometimes statistics are manipulated to try to inaccurately report the dangers of immigration. For example, here are some quotes from a paper published by the Heritage Society, compared to actual facts:
- “Almost half of all the criminals prosecuted in federal courts in 2018 were aliens, charged with crimes ranging from drug trafficking, to murder, to kidnapping.” In reality, these federal cases – 52 percent – involved illegal entry, illegal re-entry, and immigration violations. They were NOT incidences of violent crime committed by illegal aliens but represented immigration prosecutions for the violation of immigration laws.
- The report says, “Illegal border crossings over the past year reached 1.7 million in October, the highest number of illegal crossings since records began being kept in 1960.” In reality these were the number of people stopped at the border, not people who entered the country.
Immigration remains a major issue in the U.S. and comprehensive solutions are required. However, these decisions should be made based on facts, not disinformation.
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