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Myths & Facts About the Costs of Immigration in the USA. Prepared for “Welcoming the Sojourner: Finding the Church’s Voice on Immigration” by The Rev. Dr. Mark R. Sills. FaithAction International House A Center for Cross-Cultural Learning and Service. 705 North Greene Street

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myths facts about the costs of immigration in the usa

Myths & Facts About the Costs of Immigration in the USA

Prepared for “Welcoming the Sojourner: Finding the Church’s Voice on Immigration” by The Rev. Dr. Mark R. Sills

FaithAction International House

A Center for Cross-Cultural Learning and Service

705 North Greene Street

Greensboro, North Carolina 27401

© 2008, FaithAction International House – Greensboro, NC 27401. Use by permission only.


Ever since Adam and Eve became the first refugees, our ancestors have been moving from one place to another in search of a better life – either by choice, forced by circumstances, or through enslavement.


Most migration is caused

by economic factors.

Capital moves easily across borders.

Labor also crosses borders, for the same reasons, but with much more difficulty.


Three Factors Tendto “Push” Migration

  • People are pushed out of their homes by poverty
  • People are pushed out of their homes by violence
  • People are pushed out of their homes by natural disaster

Four Factors Tendto “Pull”Migration

  • A shrinking labor pool – unfilled jobs draw workers into a country
  • International competitive pressure on wages forces employers to seek workers willing to work for a lower wage
  • Natural disasters (such as Katrina and Ike) demand far more workers than the country can provide internally
  • Family reunification is the largest source of legal immigration
migration in 2008
Migration in 2008
  • Because our “pull” factors are so strong, people from all parts of the world are moving into the United States in large numbers
  • Similar large population movements across borders are taking place in
    • Western Europe,
    • Central America,
    • Africa, and
    • Asia
where do the migrants go
Where Do the Migrants Go?
  • 33% of all immigrants move to Western Europe
  • 20% move to the USA
  • 7% move to Russia
  • 4% move to India
  • 3% move to Canada

Source: State of the World Population 2006

United Nations Population Fund


Where Does the USA Fit in this List?

Foreign Born as aPercentage of the Total Population

  • Russia – 8.5%
  • Canada – 18.8%
  • Australia – 19.9%
  • Switzerland – 22.9%
  • Saudi Arabia – 25.3%
  • Kuwait – 44.1%

USA – 12.8%

Source: United Nations World Population Report 2006 and the United States Bureau of the Census

impact of nafta on the mexican farmer
Impact of NAFTAon the Mexican Farmer

After a decade of NAFTA, Mexican corn farmers face ruin

Canadian Broadcasting Center Dec 10, 2005

10 years of NAFTA Destroying Mexican Farmers

By Robert Taylor - World Press Review Jan, 2003

Crushed by NAFTA, Mexican farmers head north

By Jack Kurtz/The Arizona Republic

Jun. 18, 2003

Nafta's Failures Fuel Mexican Illegal Immigration

New America Media, News Analysis, Louis Nevaer, Sep 15, 2006

Mexican Farmers See Death Sentence in NAFTA

by Pav Jordan, Reuters,December 28, 2002

impacts of nafta in mexico
Impacts of NAFTAin Mexico
  • Some 2 million Mexicans have been forced out of agriculture. These people are from areas with no other job options. They can starve or they can migrate.
  • NAFTA's service-sector rules allowed big firms like Wal-Mart to enter the Mexican market thus far putting out of business more than 28,000 locally-based small manufacturing firms.
  • Wages along the Mexican border have actually been driven down by about 25% since NAFTA. Border wages typically run 60 cents to $1 an hour.

Source: The Carnegie Endowment 2006


Myth #2:

Immigrants Come to the USA to Use Welfare



  • Immigrants, legal or not, are not eligible for most welfare benefits.
  • Anti-immigrant organizations consistently understate the taxes paid by immigrants and dramatically over-estimate the cost to the public.
  • A study done in 1991 by the US Government Accounting Office found that all immigrants together in 1990 earned $240B, paid taxes of $90B, and utilized about $5B in public services.

Source: Farrell, Christopher, and Michael J. Mandel. “The Immigrants: How They’re Helping to Revitalize the U.S. Economy.” Business Week 13 July 1992: 114-122.

The Social Security Administration in a 2008 report indicated that un-documented workers have added 8 years of viability to the Social Security System by paying taxes for which they will never receive benefits.


Myth #3:

Immigrant criminals are filling up our prisons and costing tax payers billions


Lou Dobbs recently stated on CNN that immigrant criminals make up more than 33% of all prisoners in the US!

  • Immigrants make up just 4.6% of those incarcerated in state and local jails and prisons.
  • When combined with federal prisons, immigrants make up about 7.3% of the total incarcerated population in the USA on any given day.
  • Of the 2.2 million individuals currently incarcerated in the USA, 160,500 are foreign born.

Source: United States Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2007

more facts
More Facts


Neighborhoods with a high percentage of immigrant residents are much less likely to have high crime rates.

  • Immigrants are much more likely than citizens to be in the labor force
  • Immigrants are half as likely as citizens to be charged with a crime

Source: American Journal of Public Health

Source: Urban Institute, American Immigration Lawyers Association


The criminalization of undocumented workers presents a cornucopia of opportunities for private industry:

  • VF Corp. making uniforms for the thousands of border guards
  • Contractors working on “the wall”
  • Food vendors selling meals to detention centers housing 10s of thousands of “detainees”
  • Lobbyists being paid millions to convince lawmakers to “stay tough” on immigration reform
detention is a business
Detention is a Business!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Immigration agency plans new family detention centers

The federal government is accepting bids for up to three new family detention centers that would house as many as 600 men, women and children fighting deportation cases.

October 5, 2008

Farmville, VA detention center to become largest immigration detention facility in the mid-Atlantic region. The $21 million project, led by a group of Richmond investors, is being described as what could be the “mid-Atlantic hub” for ICE operations.


Very big business….

The math is simple. More demand for immigrant detention beds, plus more government funding, equals more business for Corrections Corporation of America. Every year since 2003, the company has made record profits.

KBR, the Halliburton subsidiary recently reprimanded for gross overcharging in its military contracts in Iraq, won a $385 million contract to build the centers. According to the Halliburton website -- -- "the contract, which is effective immediately, provides for establishing temporary detention and processing capabilities to augment existing ICE Detention and Removal Operations Program facilities in the event of an emergency influx of immigrants into the U.S., or to support the rapid development of new programs."


Although the U.S. prison population ­ 1.5 million inmates ­ remains the most voluminous on Planet Earth, incarceration rates are slowing to a little over 1% a year increase while the detention side is running 21% annual growth. "What's great is that this industry promises steadily growing profits," offered an upbeat Anton High of Jefferies & Company brokers in a recent New York Times article encouraging investors to “buy in.”


10.3 million already have gone on to become naturalized US citizens with all the rights and responsibilities of any citizen!

So...How Many Are Undocumented?

There are approximately 34.5 million foreign born people in the USA.

2.7 million of these are refugees admitted to the USA by the US State Department.

1.6 million are legal temporary residents, usually school teachers or agricultural workers.

10.5 million are Legal Permanent Residents of the USA, with full legal rights to live and work here, and eventually to become citizens if they so choose.

That leaves approximately 9.3 million people who are undocumented.

Source: Undocumented Immigrants: Facts and Figures, January 2004, The Urban Institute


According to the Department of Homeland Security 75% of all immigrants in the USA are here with legal documents. Of the 25% who are undocumented, 40% have expired documents or are in transition to another legal status.

No more than 10% of immigrants in the USA crossed the border illegally.

Source: United States Department of Homeland Security, 2007


ICE Conducts 1,172 Raids in 11 Months

From October 1, 1997 through August 31, 2008 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) conducted 1,172 worksite raids across the country.

ICE arrested 4,956 people.

1,022 were either wanted for criminal charges or had a deportation order against them.

116 people were owners, managers, supervisors or human resources employees who were accused of hiring undocumented immigrants.

ICE spent an estimated $66 million conducting these raids.

Source: News Report, Jorge Morales Almada, October 17, 2008

myth 5 immigrants are sending most of their money back home
Myth #5: Immigrants Are Sending Most of Their Money Back Home

Myth #6: Immigrants Avoid Paying Taxes



Immigrants make up 15% of the total labor force in the US, and for the past decade have provided half the growth in the labor force.

More than 30% of the low-skilled labor jobs in the USA are filled by foreign born workers.

More than 40% of the Ph.D. level scientists working in the USA are immigrants.

Source: The President’s Council of Economic Advisors, “Immigration’s Economic Impact”, June 2007.

Forty-seven percent of current venture-backed companies in the U.S. have immigrant founders.

The number of Hispanic-owned businesses has grown at three times the national average, while the number of Asian-owned businesses has grown at twice the national average.

Source: Migration Policy Institute publication, Immigration and America's Future: A New Chapter, 2007


Only 50 percent of some 18.9 million Latino immigrants in this country now send money regularly to relatives in their home countries.

Source: Fewer Latino immigrants send money home. By: Julia Preston, May 1, 2008

investment immigration to usa
Investment Immigration to USA

“Give us your rich, your leisure classes, yearning to be richer!”

  • Invest at least $1 million of your own assets ($500K in some target areas)
  • Create or save at least 10 jobs for non-relatives and non-immigrants
  • Any type of business enterprise qualifies
  • You must personally be involved in management of the enterprise

Source: US Department of Homeland Security, 2008

immigrants do pay taxes
Immigrants Do Pay Taxes

No one can live in this country and not pay property, sales, and use taxes.

The IRS estimates that in 2005 immigrant workers (including undocumented workers) paid more than $165 billion in federal taxes, and more than $85 billion in state and local taxes.

Between 1997 and 2002, the number of businesses owned by Hispanics grew by 31 percent -- three times the national average for all businesses -- hitting 1.6 million in 2002 and generating some $162 billion in tax revenue.

Source: Cato Institute, Inter-American Development Bank

the facts
The Facts
  • While immigrants do increase the supply of labor in the country, they also increase the demand for labor.
  • One quarter of technology companies that were started in the U.S. between 1995 and 2005 had at least one immigrant founder. These companies hired 450,000 workers and produced $52 billion in sales.
  • In Silicon Valley, the epicenter of America’s recent tech boom, over half of start-ups were founded by immigrants.

Source: New American Media, “More Immigrants Means More Jobs,” April 2007


The Facts

If all of the undocumented immigrants in the USA were to be removed, either through deportation or through their voluntary exodus the impact would be dramatic:

  • For the US as a whole, the immediate negative effect of eliminating the undocumented workforce would include an estimated
    • $1.757 trillion in annual lost spending,
    • $651.511 billion in annual lost output, and
    • 8.1 million lost jobs.

Source: The Perryman Group: AN ESSENTIAL RESOURCE: An Analysis of the Economic Impact of Undocumented Workers on Business Activity in the US with Estimated Effects by State and by Industry, 2008

essential jobs
Essential Jobs
  • Essential jobs are often being filled by immigrants:
    • In some states now, more than half of construction workers are immigrants.
    • Nationally, more than 50% of workers in meat packing plants are immigrants.
    • More than 20% of medical professionals in the US are immigrants.
    • More than 40% of research scientists in the US are immigrants.

Source: United States Department of Labor, Office of Labor Statistics


Crackdown on illegal immigration boosts food prices

Crackdown on illegal immigration across borders contributes to increasing cost of food.

October 15, 2008

Immigration's Fallout: Fewer Fresh Tomatoes?

March 26, 2008

One farmer in Pennsylvania — who before this year had operated the largest fresh-market tomato producing farm in the state — says the policy gridlock [concerning immigration] is forcing him to stop growing tomatoes.

the facts37
The Facts
  • Within 10 years of arrival 75% of immigrants speak English well.
  • There are extensive waiting lists for all the English classes at our Community Colleges, and many churches have active ESOL programs.
  • The percentage of immigrants who apply for citizenship (which requires fluency in English) has never been higher.

Source: United States Department of Homeland Security: Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services 2007

The Manhattan Institute just released a study (May, 2008) which found that today’s immigrants assimilate more rapidly than previous waves of immigrants.


El muro de vergüenza

  • Cost of a border wall was supposed to be only $3 million per mile or $568 per foot.
  • Latest estimates for construction and maintenance of 700 miles of fencing is $60 billion (or $85 million per mile).
  • Total length of border between USA and Mexico is 1,969 miles.
  • Total cost to build and maintain an entire border wall would be more than $168 billion.
  • Thus far, Congress has only allocated $1.2 billion!
  • Canada’s border with the USA equals 3,987 miles
  • Coastlines of the USA total 12,383 miles unless inlets and bays are included in which case they total 29,093 miles

Myth #10:

We are not against immigrants, just those who come to the United States illegally. They should go home and get in line to come here legally just like our ancestors did.

historical facts
Historical Facts:
  • First, are you sure your ancestors came here “legally?”
    • Driven by a declining economy and unfair economic policies most of the Ulster-Scots (often called the Scotts Irish) who settled in the US and Canada were forced off their lands by foreign economic policies just like the Mexican workers coming to the USA today.
    • More than half the Ulster-Scots who migrated to the United States did so by first going to Canada and then crossing the border without documents, just like the Mexicans coming into the USA today.

Source: Journal of Scotch-Irish Studies, Vol. 1, No. 2

reality check
Reality Check
  • Because of US Immigration Law, virtually the only Latin Americans who can legally immigrate to the USA are:
    • Close relatives of US citizens (it currently takes between 12 and 15 YEARS to process the application for permission to come here).
    • Highly educated scientists and technicians being sought by major corporations for temporary residence in the US.

Source: US Department of Homeland Security


In short...

Latin Americans fleeing economic disaster and starvation have virtually no legal avenue for coming to the USA.

This is true also for many of those who most need to migrate to the USA from places like Haiti, some parts of Asia, and many countries in Africa.


FaithAction International House

A Center for Cross Cultural Learning & Service

705 North Greene Street

Greensboro, NC 27401


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