Sunday, August 3, 2008

Immigrant Scapegoats: Part 3 of Response to “In Just One Year”

The email I have been responding to in my last couple posts blames immigrants for "bankrupting us." The email then goes on to cite a litany of statistics used to perpetuate two of the biggest myths promulgated by anti-immigrant groups.

Myth #1 - Immigrants are Dangerous Criminals

Anti-immigration groups like to paint immigrants as dangerous criminals. They know that most people's basic human decency would not allow other human beings to be treated the way they propose immigrants be treated. Most of us don't feel much compassion for rapists and murderers, so they try to insinuate that immigrants are rapists and murderers.

The first article the author cites is titled "The Dark Side of Illegal Immigration: Nearly One Million Sex Crimes Committed by Illegal Immigrants in the United States." First ask yourself - is that even possible? According to FBI crime statistics, there were 80,414 reported rapes and attempted rapes nationwide in the year 2006. There were 15,854 reported murders nationwide. That is a total of 96,268 rapes and murders in one year in the United States.

I could not locate any good, recent statistics on incidents of child molestation in the United States, but the last U.S. Children's Bureau estimates for the number of children molested in 1993 was 217,700. In short, we don’t even reach 1 million murders, rapes, and molestations for the entire country in a year. Perhaps the person who wrote the article was guesstimating crimes from the beginning of time until doomsday?

The next claim is that “illegal aliens in the United States have a crime rate that’s two and a half times that of white non-illegal aliens (and that) their children are going to make a huge additional crime problem in the US.” The source for this information is Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation (speaking on Lou Dobbs). Rector does not say how he obtained that figure, nor does anyone ask him.

In fact, a study performed by the Public Policy Institute of California shows that U.S. born men have crime rates two and a half to ten times higher than immigrant men. They also found that cities with higher proportions of immigrants have seen crime rates fall faster than cities with less immigrants.

Follow a link from the “In Just One Year” email and it will take you to another Lou Dobbs transcript where CNN correspondent Christine Romans says that “30 percent of federal prisoners are not U.S. citizens” and that “taxpayers spend more than $3 million every day to house non-U.S. citizens.” It is true that there are non-U.S. citizens in prison. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, there were 1,595,034 people in federal and state prison as of June 30, 2007. Of those, 96,703 (or about 6%) were not U.S. citizens.

Not surprisingly, Lou Dobbs correspondent does not ask why the non-U.S. citizens are in prison. A large portion are in prison for crossing the border and for no other reason. Immigration related prosecutions have risen substantially since a 1996 law authorizing increased INS hiring, as has the amount of time each immigration offender has had to stay in prison. I can’t find evidence to back up the claim that it costs us $3 million every day to house non-U.S. citizens, but sending someone who crossed the border to prison for 20 months is bound to have a cost.

Finally, the author tries to connect immigrants crossing the southern border with terrorists, saying that “as many as 19,500 illegal aliens from Terrorist Countries” crossed the border in 2005. The source is a Homeland Security report which does not say “Terrorist Countries” but “special interest countries.” And while it is certainly possible that a terrorist could come into the country illegally via the southern border, it is also true that the majority of the 9/11 hijackers had visas and were processed by U.S. immigration.

Myth #2 - Immigrants are a Drain on the Economy

When not made out to be violent criminals, immigrants are painted as parasites here to live off the hard work of U.S. citizens.

The email titled "In Just One Year" claims that "$11 Billion to $22 billion is spent on welfare to illegal aliens each year by state governments." The link they provide leads to an article by FAIR. However, the article doesn't claim that money is being spent to provide services to illegal aliens, but to legal immigrants. The article lists the benefits available to legal immigrants as "school lunch and breakfast programs, immunizations, emergency medical services, and disaster relief."

So even if we believe the statistics in this article (and I do not), what these people are saying is that they want to deny school lunches to children of legal immigrants. They don't think legal immigrants should be immunized against diseases. And they want to let legal immigrants die rather than receive emergency medical care? How heartless does a person have to be to deny nutrition to a child because their parent is an immigrant? What kind of person would let another human being die in an emergency room because they weren't born here? And finally, even if you are completely heartless, how stupid is it to have un-immunized people living in the country, increasing all of our risk for disease?

Immigrants here without documents are not eligible for welfare programs like food stamps. And while it is true that there are costs associated with education, health care, roads, etc; an in depth study by the CATO Institute shows that immigrants (legal and illegal) pay significantly more in taxes than they receive in services. It is also important to remember that the vast majority of immigrants (80% according to the U.S. Census Bureau) are between 18 and 64. That means the majority had any schooling paid for by their home country and are too young to be participating in the most costly welfare programs, those meant for the elderly.

Next the author says that "illegal aliens sent home $45 billion in remittances back to their countries of origin." The source for this information is dubious to say the least, but the figure could conceivably be correct. According to the World Bank, recorded remittances to developing countries totaled $251 billion in 2007. That figure is for the entire world. I might note that the top two receiving countries are actually India and China, not Mexico. And that, in fact, remittances to Mexico have been decreasing in recent years.

The implication is that this money should be staying within our borders. Does that mean that, conversely, U.S. citizens should not be benefiting from the human and natural resources of other countries? You'd be hard pressed to find something that you own that does not contain raw materials from another country or was not made by workers in another country. Those $5 T-Shirts you get from Walmart come courtesy of garment workers making pennies somewhere overseas. Are you ready to give up oil? To start paying the true price for your food and toys?

And what about U.S. companies working overseas. U.S. companies are operating around the globe and making enormous profits which they then bring back to the United States. Many extract natural resources, use the cheap labor, and take advantage of weak protections for workers. Dole was using banned pesticides in Guatemala which caused Guatemalan workers to become sterile. Coca Cola workers in Colombia were killed when they tried to unionize.

And to this day in Bhopal, where 5,000 people were killed and babies are still being born with birth defects twenty years later, the U.S. company behind the chemical disaster is yet to be held responsible. And that one company, Dow, grossed $49 billion in 2007 - well over the total amount of remittances claimed by the author. Yet if one of these Guatemalans or Colombians or Indians wants to come to the United States and send a little money back home, anti-immigrant hysterics ensue.

Finally, the author of "In Just One Year" claims that "$200 Billion Dollars a year in suppressed American wages are caused by the illegal aliens." This statistic comes from Lou Dobbs himself who claimed the statistic came from "the most authoritative and recent study." Unfortunately, he doesn't actually name the study, making this claim impossible to verify. And although many other anti-immigrant groups on the internet cite this figure, none of them provide information about the actual research.

The truth is that it is almost impossible to know whether or not immigrants are keeping wages down and, if so, by how much. See this Washington Post article for a good summary. Many people who hire immigrant farmworkers or construction workers claim that only immigrants even apply for the jobs. Is it conceivable that, if you paid strawberry pickers $30 an hour, other people would apply? Sure. But how many strawberries do you think you could afford to buy if that's what they made?

Personally, I think the minimum wage should be much higher than it is and that everyone (immigrant or no) should receive enough to live human. But the idea that we can obtain that goal by shutting our doors to new labor is naive. Our wages have stagnated because most businesses can relocate if they feel they can get cheaper labor elsewhere and because businesses are more interested in making money for their CEOs and stockholders than in treating their workers decently.

Besides, you have to look at why people are coming to work here to begin with. Since NAFTA, small farmers in Mexico have been losing their farms. Mexico, the birthplace of corn, is now importing corn from agribusiness in the United States. When these farmers lose their land, they often end up here, as farmworkers. Rather than demonizing these people, we need to recognize that the same trade deals that hurt people in the United States, also hurt people elsewhere. Many small farmers in the United States are beginning to recognize that fact, visiting with farmers in other parts of the world, and doing what they can to support better policies.

Corporations and capital are not constrained by national boundaries. Until we recognize that fact, we will never have a chance at better standards of living for workers.

To be continued...

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