14 August 2010

Ted McLaughlin : Debunking the Immigrant Myths

Sign on fence of ranch on US/Mexico border near Campo, California. Photo by Fred Greaves / Reuters.

Fear fuels $600 million border bill:
Debunking the myths about immigrants

By Ted McLaughlin / The Rag Blog / August 14, 2010

On Thursday, the United States Senate passed a $600 million bill to send more agents and equipment to the Mexican border (a bill that had already been passed by the House), and President Obama has signed the bill into law today. With the deficit already large and the other pressing needs in this country, why was this bill passed?

The answer is fear. In an effort to return to power, the Republicans have for months now been stirring up racial and ethnic fears. They have painted the U.S./Mexico border as a violent and very dangerous place and placed the blame for that on undocumented Hispanic immigrants. They have been so successful in painting this picture of a border area full of criminal activity that it looks like even the Democrats are buying into it.

After it was passed Senator Charles Schumer (D-New York) said the bill would provide Homeland Security "with the boots on the ground and the resources necessary to combat the (border) crime and violence." Even President Obama is not immune to this belief. He said, "And this new law will also strengthen our relationship with Mexico in targeting the gangs and criminal organizations that operate on both sides of our shared border."

If people listened to the politicians in Washington, most of whom know nothing about the border situation with Mexico (except probably some lurid accounts of crime on the Mexican side of the border), they might be convinced the border is a very dangerous place where residents are in constant fear for their lives. Is that true?

Actually, it is not true. It's just one of several myths being spread and propagated by Republicans in an effort to capitalize on the fear and prejudice of many Americans -- myths that have now assumed epic proportions and are blindly accepted by many Americans. There are three of these myths (lies) that seem to be accepted as truth by a large segment of the population (even though they have no basis in truth and are not supported by facts). Let's examine these myths.

MYTH #1. Illegal immigration has turned America's southern border into a very violent and crime-ridden area where residents must fear for their safety.

While many Americans have been duped into believing this, the Americans who actually live on the border know this is just not true. This is clearly shown by a new poll conducted by The Reuel Group. The poll was conducted July 14th and 15th and has a margin of error of 2.9%. Poll respondents were all American citizens who were registered to vote and lived in the cities of Douglas (AZ), Nogales (AZ), Yuma (AZ), El Centro (CA), San Diego (CA), Los Cruces (NM), Brownsville (TX), El Paso (TX), Laredo (TX) and McAllen (TX). Here are the poll results:

Do you feel safe as you walk and drive in your neighborhood during your regular daily activities?

Would you allow a child, grandchild or other young relative to play in a neighborhood park?

Do you feel that your neighborhood is as safe as most neighborhoods in the United States?

Do you feel safe living in your border community?

Now those are some pretty doggone good numbers. I daresay that many cities and towns further inside the United States don't have nearly as good numbers. It is obvious that the huge majority of border residents (American citizens) don't feel the border is a violent and crime-ridden area.

This is backed up by the sheriff in El Paso, who points out that his city is one of the safest cities in America (having only had two homicides so far this year). Sheriff Richard Wiles says there has always been a small amount of spillover violence at the border, but it is not anywhere near as bad as the politicians would have us believe. He said there are three reasons for this:
  1. There are a large number and wide variety of police forces at the border and they work together very effectively.
  2. Mexican criminals realize it's easier to get away with crime in Mexico than the United States.
  3. The cartels have a substantial business interest in keeping ports of entry open (and lose money when they are closed).
Both the citizens and elected officials living near the border don't believe the border is a dangerous area, and most of those elected officials believe the extra money directed at crime and violence on the border is misguided and misspent.

MYTH #2. Undocumented immigrants receive the benefits of living in America without having to pay taxes in this country.

This is also false. To start with, all undocumented immigrants must pay state sales taxes just like anyone else shopping in the United States. They also pay the same property taxes as everyone else -- including renters who pay these taxes as a part of their rent. And it doesn't stop there.

Especially since the law was passed requiring a social security number to be hired in America, most undocumented immigrants (at least 75%) also pay income taxes (since it is taken out of their paycheck). They actually wind up paying more than low-wage American workers, since they are not able to get a tax refund at the end of the year.

They also have social security taxes taken out of their paychecks. Because they are not eligible to receive social security retirement benefits, this means they are subsidizing the Americans who are eligible to receive those benefits -- to the tune of over $7 billion a year. The social security program is actually healthier because of the money paid into it by undocumented immigrants.

MYTH #3. Illegal immigrants are destroying American language and culture by bringing their own language and culture to this country.

While many non-thinking American may not believe it, this myth has been busted by many studies. It is a fact that while many first generation immigrants (both legal and illegal) stay predominantly with their native language, the second generation of the family are virtually all English speakers. It is just too hard to get by in this country without speaking English and nearly impossible to grow up in America without learning English. By the third generation, these families have become completely Americanized.

As for these families bringing their cultures, that has always been true in this nation of immigrants. There are millions of people in America who still celebrate some of the aspects of culture that their ancestors brought from other countries many generations ago. Why should recent immigrants be any different? By the third generation these families will be as American as anyone else, whether they retain a part of their unique culture or not.

My own family has retained very little of our original Scots-Irish-Dutch culture, and I think we are probably poorer for it. America is made stronger, not weaker, by it's mixture of cultures (and it makes for a much more interesting and enlightened place to live).

It is sad that these myths are accepted by many Americans as fact. They are nothing more than lies forwarded by power-hungry politicians playing on the fears and racial insensitivity of the weak-minded. It is time for us to get past them.

We can debate what our immigration policy should be and what should be done with those who are not in this country legally. There are good arguments that can be made in this debate. But these myths are not among those and should be discarded by all decent Americans.

[Rag Blog contributor Ted McLaughlin also posts at jobsanger.]

The Rag Blog

Only a few posts now show on a page, due to Blogger pagination changes beyond our control.

Please click on 'Older Posts' to continue reading The Rag Blog.