The Illegal Immigration Myth

Some say undocumented immigrants commit as much as 25 percent of U.S. murders and wreck the economy and healthcare system. The truth is nowhere close to that.

Thirty more people died in mass shootings in Texas and Ohio in less than a 24-hour span on August 3 and 4.

That makes 251 mass shootings so far this year — about one a day, according to Gun Violence Archive.

Donald Trump and many of his followers believe illegal immigrants have carried out a significant number of these shootings. U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock, a Republican from California and strong Trump supporter, is among those who have falsely claimed that undocumented immigrants killed as many as 1,800 Americans in 2017 alone.

But the truth is that unauthorized immigrants have committed exactly zero of the mass shootings listed by GVA in 2019. U.S. citizens — many of them Caucasians enraged by Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, as the suspect in the El Paso shooting reportedly was — have been the perpetrators. That continues a trend of 2018, in which the Anti-Defamation League found that each of the 17 major mass killings that year — from Parkland, Fla., to Pittsburgh — could be linked to right-wing extremism.

On the other side of the political spectrum, the only major mass shooting in recent years linked to the left wing was carried out by a reported Bernie Sanders supporter in 2017.

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Some laud immigrants, while others use them as scapegoats. [Photo by Nitish Meena/ Unsplash]

That’s not to say that some undocumented immigrants don’t commit serious crimes. But even the far-right Federation for American Immigration Reform — which has ties to white supremacists and callously calls such immigrants “illegal aliens” as if they are not human and hail from another planet — can only find two or three such violent incidents a month among a group that numbers as much as 11 million in the U.S.

Think about it. If you are in a country illegally, trying to make some money and gain a better life, wouldn’t you do everything possible to steer clear of authorities? You’d have to be very desperate, perhaps among the minority caught in the drug trade, to commit a crime that could get you locked up or deported.

The bottom line is that the chance of being killed by an undocumented immigrant these days is much less than the chance of being killed by a right-wing extremist, which still is very low in the latter case. Perhaps people who want to build a stronger barrier along the U.S.-Mexican border should focus more attention on isolating violent right-wing extremists from the rest of society.

The U.S. civilian workforce includes some 7.6 million undocumented immigrants, about 5 percent of the labor force, according to the latest figures from Pew Research Center. That is down from some 8.2 million in 2007 after rising from 3.6 million in 1995.

They generally work minimum-wage jobs that most Americans don’t want to fill, economists say. Those include as farm laborers, light industrial employees, hotel and office custodial workers, and restaurant help.

Some employers pay to help transport unauthorized workers into the U.S., mostly in secret. The Trump administration arrested more unauthorized workers in 2018 than the previous year, but fewer managers who hired them. ICE has also stepped up audits of businesses.

With unauthorized workers so ingrained into the economy, deporting all of them would have a disastrous impact, many economists believe. Sectors such as construction, agriculture, housing, and personal services would be “drastically reduced,” Giovanni Peri, an economist at the University of California at Davis, told The New York Times. Companies would close and relocate. Some towns would see “half their population disappear. It definitely would trigger a recession,” Peri said.

Some believe the jobs would be filled by U.S. citizens, though that could be just on a temporary basis. Many unemployed Americans are at least partially disabled or not in good enough health to work full-time on their feet in farms, hotels, and restaurants, experts say. Many do not want to work such jobs and would rather do office work, sales or telemarketing.

Industry groups regularly complain about the lack of available workers. For farms, it’s become “increasingly difficult to find American workers attracted to these kinds of jobs,” according to the agricultural advocacy group American Farm Bureau Federation. While some jobs can be replaced by machines, certain ones, such as picking fruit and tending livestock, need the human touch.

The bureau is calling for an “adjustment of status” for experienced, unauthorized agricultural workers, as well as a “more affordable” guest worker visa program administered by the USDA. “Farmers believe our laws must be followed, but our laws also ought to allow for an adequate, legal workforce,” said AFBF President Zippy Duvall. “Farmers deserve better than to be forced to leave crops in the field because there aren’t enough workers to help with harvest…. An adequate workforce is needed to address issues ranging from food waste to farm sustainability. America disagrees on many things, but surely we can agree we need to keep putting healthy food on the table.”

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Some call undocumented immigrants illegal “aliens,” while others proclaim that no human being is illegal or an alien. [Photo by Maria Oswalt/ Unsplash]

Then there are those who publicly call for building a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border to score political points, while privately hiring illegal immigrants in their businesses. Trump is among those, although his organization vowed to fire any undocumented worker they found after reports were published that some worked at their golf clubs and other businesses.

Regarding the proposed wall, more immigrants enter the U.S. on tourist and other visas and overstay illegally than cross the border, according to the Center on Migration Studies of New York. Mexico is the leading country for overstays, though the number of undocumented Mexicans in the U.S. declined by 400,000 in 2017 alone. China, India, Venezuela, and the Philippines also provide significant numbers of overstays.

Of the 19 terrorists involved in the Sept. 11 attacks, 18 entered the U.S. on tourist visas and the other on a student visa. So it’s clear that shutting down border crossings won’t have the impact on illegal immigration that some believe it will.

As expected, relatively few illegal immigrants have health insurance since most can’t exactly get access to programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. Some obtain coverage through their university, employer, or as a spouse or dependent of an employee . And a few purchase expensive plans through private coverage outside of the ACA market.

Some states cover income-eligible children. In June, California approved an expansion in coverage for low-income undocumented immigrant adults through age 25.

Many go to hospital emergency rooms to seek care. Hospitals are required to provide aid to such patients, and Medicaid helps offset some costs. What this costs the system is a subject of debate.

Healthcare researcher Chris Conover puts the figure at $18.5 billion annually, which includes $6.6 billion in tax subsidies. Others say the costs of undocumented immigrants to the medical system are much lower. Rand Corporation researchers cited about $7 billion a year.

Either way, those figures represent from 1.5 to 3 percent of total healthcare spending in the U.S. That aligns with the 3.3 percent of the U.S. population that undocumented workers represent.

They might be here illegally. But as you can see, many employers want them to be here. So isn’t it fair they obtain certain necessities to remain healthy, such as adequate health care?

There are also ethical questions, such as how much we are responsible for helping others on this increasingly smaller planet, where national boundaries are blurred by technological and other considerations. When we have 4 percent of the population of the planet and use roughly 20 percent of the world’s water, energy, raw materials, and other resources, are we not bound to either help more or share the resources more equitably?

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Written for 45+ newspapers/mags. Written some books — see https://www.amazon.com/Kevin-J.-Shay/e/B004BCQRTG. Visited 48 states, 30+ countries.

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