Three Immigration Myths Meet the Facts

In response to a recent Roll Call article calling out the nativist lobby, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith wrote a letter to the editor making a series of claims -- many of which he’s been making for the last 20 years -- which simply don’t stack up to the facts. These myths also conveniently obsure the lack of any denial of ties to the nativist lobby. While many of Smith’s easy-to-swallow myths may stir the extreme end of a conservative base, they serve as a yet another distraction from having an open and honest immigration debate.

Repeating the same myths over and over again doesn’t make them true. Here are a few recently cited immigration myths and the facts that refute them:

MYTH: The American people want enforcement-only “solutions.”

FACT: Voters still strongly support comprehensive immigration reform. According to a November 2010 nationwide poll, support for comprehensive immigration reform is broad-based and crosses party lines. When comprehensive immigration reform was described to voters, 81% of voters supported the measure. Republicans were the most intense supporters, with fully 72% strongly supporting comprehensive reform. Additionally, 76% (62% strongly) agree with the statement that “deporting all 11 million illegal immigrants currently in the United States is unrealistic.”

MYTH: We could make jobs available for citizens and legal immigrants if we simply enforced our current immigration laws.

FACT: Although it might seem that deporting all unauthorized immigrant workers from the labor force would automatically improve job prospects for unemployed Americans, the fact is that employment is not a “zero sum” game. Mass deportation would actually reduce U.S. GDP by 1.46% annually, amounting to a $2.6 trillion cumulative loss in GDP over 10 years, and cost an estimated $206 billion to $230 billion over 5 years. The notion that unemployed natives could simply be “swapped” for employed unauthorized immigrants is not valid economically. There is little apparent relationship between recent immigration and unemployment rates at the regional, state, or county level.

MYTH: The granting of automatic citizenship to the children of foreigners comes from a misinterpretation of the 14th Amendment. The framers never sought to guarantee citizenship to children of illegal immigrants. During the debate in 1866, the Senator who authored the 14th Amendment said it would “not of course include persons born in the United States who are foreigners.”

FACT: The framers intended to end discriminatory definitions of citizenship that create a permanent underclass. The quotation is taken out of context, and reaffirms birthright citizenship when read in full:

“Every person born within the limits of the United States, and subject to their jurisdiction, is by virtue of natural law and national law a citizen of the United States. This will not, of course, include persons born in the United States who are foreigners, aliens, who belong to the families of ambassadors or foreign ministers accredited to the Government of the United States, but will include every other class of persons. It settles the great question of citizenship and removes all doubt as to what persons are or are not citizens of the United States. This has long been a great desideratum in the jurisprudence and legislation of this country.”

In other words, the terms “foreigners” and “aliens” are used to describe those “who belong to the families of ambassadors or foreign ministers accredited to the Government of the United States.” Constitutional citizenship as enshrined in the 14th Amendment and affirmed several times by the U.S. Supreme Court, was intended to ensure that all those born on U.S. soil are treated equally with rights of citizenship, and no state or national legislature may re-define citizenship to exclude certain groups of people.

These are just a few examples of how dangerous myths can be and why facts do and should matter in the larger immigration debate. The truth is that until we focus on policy reforms that improve our immigration system in an honest, fair and effective way instead of disseminating myths and misinformation that divide us, we are destined to keep spinning our wheels with no real improvements to our system.

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