Michele Bachmann has rushed in where angels fear to tread. And she is a fool for doing so. Just when her campaign badly needed some class, she reached into the mud and found another group to demonize besides homosexuals: illegal immigrants. She announced recently that she would become the first GOP presidential candidate to make opposition to illegal immigration a signature issue, no doubt in a bid to shore up her flagging poll numbers against Rick Perry.
But this will put her in bed with groups such as the Center for Immigration Studies and Numbers USA who are the political godfathers of the modern anti-immigrant movement. Inspired by a radical Malthusianism, they tout an ultra restrictionist agenda—advocating in CIS's case a moratorium on all immigration, skilled and unskilled. They are part of a network of organizations founded by John Tanton, a Michigan-based ophthalmologist, who warmly applauded China’s one-child policy and sterilization of Third World women, all of which fundamentally conflicts with Bachmann’s Christian, pro-life beliefs.
They have peddled myths about unauthorized workers that have stymied rational immigration reform. Here are the five big ones that Bachmann will inevitably hawk.
Illegal Immigrants Raise Crime Rates
The reality is the exact opposite. The violent and property crime rate in Arizona actually declined between 1998 and 2008 as its illegal immigrant population soared, debunking the central rationale for the harsh anti-immigrant law it recently adopted. The same is true for California, New Mexico, and Texas. Indeed, El Paso, a Texas border town that has a predominantly Hispanic population—much of it foreign, illegal and poor—had the third lowest violent crime rate in 2008, after Honolulu and New York.
In fact, undocumented aliens have far lower crime and conviction rates than the native born because they want to avoid the law. Indeed, Jack Levin, a Northeastern University criminologist maintains that if you want to live in a safe city, find one with a large immigrant population.
Illegal Immigrants Threaten American Jobs and Depress Wages
They don’t. Why? Because they gravitate toward those sectors where the native-born don’t or won’t work. They complement, not supplant, the skills of Americans. For example, 54 percent of tailors in America are foreign born, but less than 1 percent of crane operators are.
The economy isn’t a zero-sum game where an immigrant’s gain is an American’s loss. Immigrants create their own jobs, starting businesses at a rate greater than the native-born. They enhance overall economic productivity, lowering the prices of goods and services and raising—not lowering—real wages.
Illegal Immigrants Mooch Off Welfare
In fact, available evidence suggests that unauthorized workers contribute more in taxes than they consume in services. The National Research Council found that unskilled immigrant families on average put $80,000 more into federal coffers than they use over their lifetimes, once the contributions of their children are factored in.
And that was before the 1996-welfare reform act. Since then, illegals have been barred from collecting most means-tested federal benefits except for emergency medical services. However, they didn’t get a reprieve from taxes. All of them pay state sales taxes and property taxes (through rent) that help offset the cost of roads, schools and other non-means tested services they use. And 62 percent of them also pay federal income taxes (via withholdings) while 66 percent contribute to Social Security and Medicare. Their Social Security contributions put $50 billion annually into something called the “earnings suspense file” that they’ll likely never see again because they use fake Social Security numbers on their returns that can’t be traced back to them.
Illegal Immigrants are Queue-Jumpers Who Violate the Rule of Law
This trope has turned amnesty into a dirty word. It suggests that regularizing unauthorized workers would effectively diss the millions patiently waiting their turn. This betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of our immigration system.
The folks waiting in the “queue” are mainly skilled immigrants because there is a queue for them to wait in. Not so with most unskilled immigrants.
Skilled immigrants can apply for a temporary work visa called H1-B. This allows them to legally work here while simultaneously applying for a green card. The available H1-Bs are woefully inadequate and the green card process byzantine and long. But it exists.
There is nothing equivalent for non-agricultural unskilled immigrants. Not only is it way harder for them to land a temporary work visa, the terms of the visa bar them from applying for a green card while here. And there is no process for them to apply for one from their own country. Asking them to wait in line is a polite way of telling them to get lost.
Mexicans will Overrun America Without a Berlin Wall Along the Rio Grande
This is the mother of all fears. However, immigration flows are remarkably self-regulating when left to market forces. They increase when the U.S. economy is booming relative to Mexico’s, and diminish when it slows down. Indeed, a growing body of research, including by Princeton University’s Mexican Migration Project, has found that since America’s recession began, the flow of Mexican workers has gone into negative territory. But even during booms, the flow closely tacks the jobs available and the economy’s capacity to absorb foreign workers.
Shikha Dalmia is a senior analyst at Reason Foundation and a columnist at The Daily, where this column originally appeared.