As an increasing number of noxious anti-immigrant laws are adopted in the US; as Europe debates border closures; and as the effective elimination of freedom of movement expands –– the immigration debate, in all its racist glory, is back, baby.
While immigration debates in the U.S. and Europe are colored in different shades of hideous (broadly speaking, it’s racism against Latinos – generalized as being Mexicans – and against Arabs and Muslims – generalized as being terrorists), the content is the same: fear mongering about “illegal aliens” and the havoc they wreak on our economy, our Welfare State and our social fabric.
Today’s political discourse on immigration resides in a national security framework. Reinforcing border patrols and holding people in camps have become justifiable acts in the name of national defense. And, the fact that existing anti-immigrant sentiment coincides beautifully with a massive economic crisis, makes undocumented migrants easy scapegoats for our nations’ economic woes.
For all these reasons, let’s unpack some of the most common lies that come up while this topic is at the fore.
Let’s start with the basics. First of all, despite the favourite “they take our jobs!!” tirade, immigrants (documented and undocumented) tend to fill the jobs that we don’t necessarily want or can’t necessarily fill. These tend to be in either really high-skilled jobs (physics, computer science, medicine) or low-skilled jobs (domestic workers, low-end service industry jobs, construction and light manufacturing). Undocumented workers also labor in the most insecure and least protected jobs. As a result, they are the first fired in economic downturns –– like this one.Flickr – Nevele Otseog
Migrants DO contribute to the national economy. They help grow GDP not only through the jobs they fill, but also as consumers, entrepreneurs and investors. As such, immigrants raise both the demand and supply for goods. Because of this growth, according to the a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, “for each job an immigrant fills, an additional job is created” “and maybe more“. There is no consensus on the effects of immigration on lowering wages for native workers, but some economists believe that wages for most Americans are “slightly higher than they would be without immigration”.
Undocumented workers DO pay taxes. It is basically impossible to live anywhere without paying taxes. They pay taxes on most purchases (sales and excise tax), or when they rent or own (property tax). The Centre for Migration Studies estimates that in 2002, undocumented immigrants paid over $16 billion in taxes and that today, over 66% pay income tax.
All workers that are employed in the formal economy, be they US citizens, documented or undocumented immigrants, have taxes deducted from their pay-checks including state and federal income tax, unemployment insurance, social security and workers’ compensation. Some undocumented workers enter the formal economy by providing a false social security number. This means taxes are still deducted from their paychecks, but they receive none of the benefits on the other end, as what they pay in is not attached to their name. The New York Times estimates that undocumented workers pay $7 billion in social security taxes. Since they cannot claim those funds at the end of a career, this is money that benefits the rest of society. (For more on this, see Aviva Chomsky’s They Take Our jobs: and 20 Other Myths about Immigration ).
We also cannot forget that the U.S. and Europe are facing low birth rates and a very large retiring baby boom generation. Thanks to the estimated $500 billion paid by immigrants in social security over the next 20 years, we can keep our pension systems going with less strain.
Singling out undocumented immigrants as “the problem” is simply wrong. Migrants, be they legal or not, are driven to our rich countries for the same reasons – to make a better life for themselves and their families –– not to mention that they tend to come from places whose poverty and wars are a direct result of the West’s colonization, deindustrialization, and capitalist pursuits. As the undocumented contribute as much to our economies as legal migrants, they should reap the same benefits. They should not live in fear of raids and deportations, of racial targeting laws, and of being separated from their families.
During these insecure times where anti-immigrant sentiment is high, instead of running towards isolationism, we should strive for immigration laws that are founded in the principle of equal treatment of all human beings and for the respect of the freedom of movement for everyone. Instead of forever scapegoating the poor whose only crime is not to have been born in the right place, we must uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states (Article 13):
Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state. Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country”.
For more on the myths of immigration, check out the lucid insights of Daisy on the Pinky Show to get the real low-down: