The challenge in debunking all the myths about immigrants is that they have become the accepted national response to a complex issue involving 11 million real people that can’t be addressed in sound bites. Instead of a thoughtful debate, we get chest-pounding and fear-mongering. As America’s Undocumented, we are subjected to stereotypical character-bashing that wouldn’t be allowed or tolerated by any other group in the country -- not Women, Asians, Blacks, Gays, Veterans -- yet our numbers include all of these and many others.
The immigration myths communicated longest and loudest are meant to drown out the facts and silence us. They appeal to a perverse crowd mentality that wants someone to blame for everything. These myths have been carefully formulated to dehumanize us and make it easier to render us invisible – of no concern or merit, even despicable. They directly contradict the nation’s heritage, rational judgment, actual facts and common decency.
In this column and on our Facts page, UnitedWeStay will set the record straight over the next few weeks – debunking the myths, starting with our alleged rampant criminality.
Myth: We Are All Criminals
There is not one single study that indicates a relationship between immigration and violent crime. The crime rate of first generation immigrants is lower than the overall crime rate among all residents.
In the immigrant population, approximately 1% is found to have criminal records versus 3% in the native-born population. Incarceration rates support this finding with U.S.-born males, ages 18-39, incarcerated at a rate of 3.5% versus a rate of 0.86% for those born outside the U.S. (Migration Policy Institute). The 2010 American Community Survey (ACS) reports roughly 1.6% of immigrant males, ages 18-39, are incarcerated compared to 3.3% of native-born.
According to a Northwestern University study, there is no correlation between immigrants and violent crime. Another study conducted by the University of Massachusetts found that the foreign-born exhibited remarkable low levels of criminal behavior over lifetimes.
A new report from the American Immigration Council explains that the evidence has been clear for more than a century: high rates of immigration are associated with lower crime rates, and immigrants are less likely to commit serious crimes or be behind bars than native-born. This holds true for both legal immigrants and the Undocumented, regardless of their country of origin or level of education.
From 1990 to 2013, the violent crime rate declined 48% and the property crime rate fell 41% while the foreign-born share of the U.S. population grew from 7.9% to 13.1% with the Undocumented numbers tripling from 3.5 million to 11.2 million.
The 2010 Census data reveals that incarceration rates among the young, less-educated Mexican, Salvadoran and Guatemalan men who make up the bulk of the unauthorized population are significantly lower than the incarceration rate among native-born young men without a high-school diploma. In 2010, less-educated native-born men, ages 18-39, had an incarceration rate of 10.7% -- more than triple the 2.8% among foreign-born Mexican men and five times greater than the 1.7% rate among foreign-born Salvadoran and Guatemalan men.
With even the slightest brush with the criminal justice system, such as being convicted of a misdemeanor, the Undocumented can find themselves subject to detention for an undetermined period, after which they are expelled from the country and barred from returning. For years, the federal government has redefined what it means to be a “criminal alien,” using increasingly harsh definitions and standards of “criminality” that don’t apply to U.S. citizens. New classes of “felonies” have been created just for immigrants with deportation set as the punishment for even minor offenses. Immigrants themselves are being criminalized by the system. The result is that the majority of U.S. deportations do not actually target “criminals” in any meaningful sense of the word.
Many of our national political leaders and pundits will not let these facts get in the way of their daily rants. It is up to us, the Undocumented, to overcome their lies with the power of the truth and the size of our constituency.
Join UnitedWeStay in Debunking All the Immigration Myths
UnitedWeStay asks that you help us debunk the myths, that you add your voice to our website, Facebook page and other social media. We are tackling these myths one at a time and we want to know the ones that enrage you the most. Our goal is to change the narrative with our own stories, to win over public perception and rewrite history. Our time is now.
Research Sources: New York Times, Center for Immigration Studies, Pew Research Center, L.A. Times, CNN Money Report, Undocumented, Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas’ July interview with CNN’s Erin Burnett, Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance Project, Chuck Todd’s Nerdscreen, American Immigration Council, Emmy-winning journalist/Univision anchor and published author Jorge Ramos, Huffington Post’s “This Land Is Your Land” and Sam Stein & Amanda Terkel’s GOP and the 14th, NPR’s “The Debate Over Anchor Babies and Citizenship,” ABC News, Migration Policy Institute, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Congressional Budget Office