Five myths about immigration


Pew Research Center

Above: the national crime rate rises among second generation immigrants as they assimilate into the culture of their native born peers.

Myth #1: All immigrants from Latin America are Mexican

At a school as diverse at AHS, most of us realize that not everyone who speaks Spanish is from Mexico. However, we still hear people on TV and in the media refer to all spanish-speakers as Mexicans.

In reality, there are people immigrating to America from a variety of Central American countries: Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and many others. People from several South American countries are also represented in Annandale such as the Bolivian and Peruvian communities.

In addition to the geographical differences of Latin American nations, their accents are completely different. Just as an Australian accent sounds strange and foreign to an American english-speaker, a Mexican spanish-speaker will have a different accent from a Puerto-Rican spanish-speaker. Just as in English, the basic grammar of the spanish language is the same everywhere but the pronunciation and vocabulary changes drastically in different regions.

The stereotype that all Latin Americans are Mexicans might be founded in the fact that many traditions originated in Mexico and spread throughout the continent.

A Quinceanera is a coming of age celebration of a young woman’s fifteenth birthday that is celebrated in Latin America. The widely celebrated Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, features family gatherings for the purpose of remembering deceased loved ones.

Latin American immigrants often bring the traditions of their home countries to nations around the globe and continue to practice them. This diffusion of culture is an essential part of globalization and increases global knowledge of cultural awareness of Latin American cultures. Although there are similarities between the cultures, Mexican immigrants compose only a fraction of all Latin American immigrants in America.

Myth #2: Most immigrants are here illegally

People might think this because of all the controversy surrounding the percentage of immigrants who are here illegally. You rarely see a news story about the law-abiding lives of documented immigrants who have their green cards and are legally starting a new life in America.

Roughly two-thirds – 20 million out of 31 million – of foreign-born residents of the United States are either citizens or legal residents. Furthermore, 45 percent of the illegal residents initially entered the U.S. legally but have let their visas expire since then.

These statistics show that a relatively low number of immigrants came to America by means of sneaking across the border or being smuggled by “coyotes.” Coyotes are people-smugglers who are paid to guide people across the border and sometimes harbor them in their homes.

The reality is that sneaking across the Mexican-American border is incredibly difficult with all the added law enforcement patrolling the area. Most immigrants reach America by legal forms of transportation.

Myth #3: The Obama administration has helped illegal immigrants gain citizenship status

According to the Pew Research Center, the Obama administration has deported more immigrants annually than the Bush administration. Of all the Hispanic-Americans polled in 2011, 59 percent said that they disapproved of the way the Obama administration is handling the deportations.

Many immigration rights advocates have urged Obama to issue an executive order and mandate the halting of the deportations. If Obama can pardon a turkey on Thanksgiving, he can definitley find time to save the lives and futures of a few immigrants.

With presidential candidates and other politicians placing so much importance on the Latino vote, I would think that dealing with immigration issues and addressing the rights of immigrants would be a popular plan of action in the political sphere. It would certainly be better than making empty promises that never actually come to fruition.

The best way for politicians to gain popularity and the support of Latinos is to take a stance on illegal immigration, and granting justice where it is due.

Myth #4: Immigrants are out to steal American jobs

It is true that employment is the number one reason for immigration into America. However, most of the jobs migrant workers take are not the jobs of average middle class Americans. In fact, the reason that these jobs are going to immigrants is because American citizens are unwilling to do the work themselves!

Migrant workers that illegally cross the border most often find employment in the agricultural sector of the economy. These jobs vary from working outside on a farm to specializing in a repetitive factory job. Construction work is another field that migrant laborers drift toward.

Although these jobs are not the most glamorous, they are essential to the prosperity of American life. Americans who complain about immigrants stealing the nation’s jobs should do one of two things: be willing to do the menial work themselves, or move to a country that discourages economic competition.

Myth #5: Undocumented immigrants bring crime

The fact of the matter is that the crime rate of native born Americans is exceptionally larger than the crime rate of first generation immigrants. According to the Pew Research Center, 16 is the peak age of criminal activity. Only 17 percent of first generation 16-year-olds have committed a crime in the past year, compared to 25 percent of native born 16-year-olds.

What is surprising is that the law-breaking trend of second generation immigrants is nearly exactly the same as that of their native-born peers. Representatives from these three groups go to school together, but it is likely that police officers would perceive the first and second generation immigrants as the more threatening than the American natives, who are the true trouble-makers.

The “minority threat perspective” is the theory that aims to explain why minorities are often subjects of racial profiling by law enforcement. Many people think that the undocumented immigrant community is much larger than it actually is. As a result of this, a common perception is that illegal immigrants are responsible for an unrealistically inflated number of crimes.

According to a New York Times survey, 73 percent of Americans believe that immigrants are either “somewhat” or “very” likely to increase crime. We can compare this to the 60 percent of people who think that immigrants are “likely to cause Americans to lose their jobs.”

Despite what people might think, the crime rates in areas with high immigrant populations, such as El Paso and San Diego, have fallen precipitously in recent years. Although the hispanic poverty rates are some of the highest in metropolitan areas, the homicide rate is lower than that of other groups.

However, when crimes do occur in immigrant communities, witnesses run the risk of deportation if they report it to the authorities. In some cases, extreme forms of enforcement has been proven to increase crime rates. A few years ago, when Arizona imposed draconian measures to combat illegal immigration, it was predicted that the crime rate would increase. Sure enough, Arizona’s severe laws ended up intimidating crime victims and witnesses who would have helped the police to solve crimes.

Of course, law-enforcement is important at reasonable levels in all communities. However, certain practices such as the “minority threat perspective” and racial profiling negatively influences public opinion and reinforces racial stereotypes.