Immigration Policy Should Reflect Our Best Values

By Jude A. Huntz, Director of the Human Rights Office, Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.

“Immigrants don’t want to learn English.”

“Immigrants don’t pay taxes”

“Immigrants increase the crime rate.”

“Immigrants take jobs away from Americans”

“Immigrants are a drain on the U.S. economy.”

“Illegal immigrants are a burden on the U.S. health care system.”

Americans have been using these generalizations for 150 years to stigmatize members of every ethnic group that has traveled to these shores seeking a better life for themselves and their children.  Anti-immigrant rhetoric is as false today as it has been throughout our history.  Here’s the truth about immigrants:

  • English proficiency among today’s immigrants is no different than for previous arrivals.  Ninety-one percent of second-generation immigrants are fluent or near fluent English speakers, according to the Pew Hispanic Forum.
  • Between one-half and three-quarters of undocumented immigrants pay state and federal taxes, and they contribute $7 billion per year to the Social Security Trust Fund.  They also pay sales tax like everyone, according to the Immigration Policy Center.
  • Immigrants commit fewer crimes than native-born Americans.  From 1994 to 2005, illegal immigration population doubled while violent crime dropped 34 percent and property crime dropped 32percent.  In fact, first-generation immigrants are 45 percent less likely to commit violent crimes than Americans, according to the Immigration Policy Center.
  • Immigrants improve the economy of the United States.  In every instance of dramatic immigration movements to the U.S., the economy grew and the nation prospered.  Immigrants today fill low-wage jobs in our nation, which requires more laborers than ever before, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.  What is more, the average immigrant pays a net of $80,000 more in taxes than he or she receives in government services.
  • Finally, immigrants access health care less frequently than Americans because they are in better overall health.  In Los Angeles County, for example, total health care spending for undocumented immigrants was 6 percent of total costs, even though they comprise 12 percent of the region’s population, the Rand Corporation reports.

Our nation needs a revised immigration policy that protects families, provides immigrants with a path toward citizenship and respects their inherent dignity.

In a nation that reveres the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, we would do well to reflect on the fact that every major figure in those scriptures was an immigrant:  Abraham, Moses, Jesus.  The biblical text commands us to provide the ancient virtue of hospitality and to welcome the stranger in our midst.

Let us work to create an immigration policy that reflects our best values as Americans and people of faith.

This article was first published in the Kansa City STAR and is included here with permission of the author.


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