“He left for work in the morning and never returned. We didn’t know what happened to him. I called friends and then I called his co-workers. Only later did I discover that he had been pulled over on the highway and arrested. He doesn’t have a drivers’ license — he can’t get one because he’s an undocumented worker — and once they realized he is an undocumented worker they deported him. We didn’t even get to say goodbye. We’ve been here for 14 years. We have five children, and they cry every night asking when their daddy is going to come home. I’m worried that he is going to try and sneak back into the country. If he does and gets caught, he will be put in prison for five years. I don’t know what to do. I can’t work, and my utilities are being shut off because I don’t have any income.”
I heard this story from a woman whose husband was deported less than a month ago. It was heart-wrenching. The group of us that had gathered to hear her story emptied our wallets. We gave whatever we had to help. But it still left me devastated. This story was one of many our group heard as participants on a denominational event called Journey to Mosaic (J2M). It’s one of the two racial reconciliation “journeys” our denomination runs.
Hopefully I’ll blog more about the experience I had in subsequent blog posts, but for now, I’d just like to share some statistics about undocumented workers in the US that hopefully dispel some of the myths associated with them. These statistics were shared on our trip, and the full list can be found here, http://www.justiceforimmigrants.org/documents/immigration-myths.pdf.
- Immigrants don’t pay taxes: Immigrants pay taxes, in the form of income, property, sales, and taxes at the federal and state level. As far as income tax payments go, sources vary in their accounts, but a range of studies find that immigrants pay between $90 and $140 billion a year in federal, state, and local taxes. Undocumented immigrants pay income taxes as well, as evidenced by the Social Security Administration’s “suspense file” (taxes that cannot be matched to workers’ names and social security numbers), which grew by $20 billion between 1990 and 1998.
- Immigrants are a drain on the US economy: During the 1990s, half of all new workers were foreign-born, filling gaps left by native-born workers in both the high- and low-skill ends of the spectrum. Immigrants fill jobs in key sectors, start their own businesses, and contribute to a thriving economy. The net benefit of immigration to the U.S. is nearly $10 billion annually. As Alan Greenspan points out, 70% of immigrants arrive in prime working age. That means we haven’t spent a penny on their education, yet they are transplanted into our workforce and will contribute $500 billion toward our social security system over the next 20 years.
- Immigrants increase the crime rate: Recent research has shown that immigrant communities do not increase the crime rate and that newly arriving immigrants tend to commit fewer crimes than native born Americans. Ruben Rumbaut, a professor of sociology at Brandeis University, found that “even as the undocumented population has doubled to 12 million since 1994, the violent crime rate in the United States has declined 34.2 percent and the property crime rate has fallen 26.4 percent.” Cities where there are high levels of immigrants, such as New York, Chicago and Miami experienced declines in violent crime during this period. Other cities with numerous immigrants, such as El Paso and Laredo, are among the country’s safest cities to live in.
- Undocumented immigrants are a burden on the health care system: The National Immigration Law Center reports that the typical immigrant spends less than half the dollar amount for medical services when compared with the typical U.S. citizen. For example, in Los Angeles County, “total medical spending on undocumented immigrants was $887 million in 2000 – 6 percent of total costs, although undocumented immigrants comprise 12 percent of the region’s residents.” Further, federal law generally bars undocumented immigrants from using Medicaid benefits except in emergency situations. Even then, immigrants as a group are significantly less likely to use emergency room services than are American citizens.
Immigrants are demonized in political debates and the news media. They are scapegoated for our country’s economic and social problems. They are treated poorly by authorities and subjected to racism in the broader society. They are doing far more good than bad, but they are still mistreated and labeled illegal — even though most of us would have done the exact same thing if we had been placed in their shoes. I hope this will change soon. I hope we can learn to treat them more equitably and with a greater awareness of the overall benefit they provide to our society. I especially hope that those of us who consider ourselves Christians, would recognize that the way undocumented workers are treated is a justice issue. They are exploited and denied basic human rights, and we ought to work towards immigration reform that not only enhances the security of our country but also treats immigrants with dignity and justice.