Debunking Misconceptions about Undocumented Immigrants

by Miguel Robles

In recent years, immigration has been in the foreground of much debate in Texas, especially regarding the inclusion of undocumented immigrants in our society. Much of the political rhetoric about this population is driven by misunderstanding of who they are and how they participate in our society.

Who Are Undocumented Immigrants?

When thinking about who undocumented immigrants are, most people think of Mexicans. However, the Pew Research Center finds that since 2016, Mexicans may no longer make up the majority of undocumented immigrants. According to the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), 13 percent of undocumented immigrants are from Asian countries, with China making up the largest population at two percent of all undocumented immigrants. Another report from the MPI also finds that between the years 2000 and 2013, there was a 202 percent increase in the population of undocumented immigrants from Asia. This report also found that the next three demographics with a large increase in undocumented immigrants came from Central America at 194 percent, Africa at 161 percent, and Europe/Canada/Oceania at 62 percent. Additionally, the growth rate of undocumented immigrants from every region continues to increase. As these percentages continue to grow, the pool of undocumented immigrants coming to the U.S. is becoming more diverse.

How Do Undocumented Immigrants Participate in the Economy?

Another misinformed argument in the immigration debate is the claim that undocumented immigrants are a burden because they do not contribute to state and local taxes. However, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, the yearly estimate for collective tax contributions for undocumented immigrants is $11.74 billion. Included is “more than $7 billion in sales and excise tax, $3.6 billion in property taxes, and $1.1 billion in personal income taxes.” On average, they pay “an estimated 8 percent of their incomes in state and local taxes” (this includes property, sales, and income taxes) compared to the tax rate of 5.4 percent paid by the top 1 percent of taxpayers. Not only do undocumented immigrants pay state and local taxes, but they contribute more than the elite of our society.

Are Undocumented Immigrants More Likely to be Criminals?

Another misinformed argument about undocumented immigrants is that they are more likely to be criminals and therefore pose a danger. However, immigrants, in general, are less likely to commit crimes than citizens born in the U.S. The Cato Institute found that in 2010, “10.7 percent of native-born men aged 18-39 without a high school degree were incarcerated compared to 2.8 percent of Mexican immigrants and 1.7 percent of Guatemalan and Salvadoran immigrants.” The report also showed that the gap between incarceration rates between native-born individuals and immigrants is continuing to grow.

What is Texas Senate Bill 4 and How Does It Affect Undocumented Immigrants?

Earlier this month, during the 85th Texas legislative session, Senate Bill 4 (SB 4) was passed and signed into law. The goal of this bill is to forbid “sanctuary cities“, a municipality that prohibits local police enforcement from enforcing immigration laws. SB 4 allows police to question the immigration status of a lawfully detained person and requires that police cooperate with federal immigration authorities. In addition, SB 4 makes it illegal to adopt policies that prevent peace officers from questioning immigration status. This also applies to police officers on public colleges. Local authorities who do not comply with such regulations are subject to a Class A misdemeanor. Additionally, this could lead to civil penalties for a first offense resulting in a $1,000 fine and up to $25,500 for multiple violations.

As the immigration debate continues, the Latinx community remains to be the main target of much of the anti-immigrant rhetoric. Much of this is misguided information about undocumented immigration. This leads these groups’ historical and cultural significance on our country to be ignored and they become the “other”. As a more diverse population enters the U.S., finding the means to be more inclusive in American society becomes more complex. However, the diversity of our historical make up proves that there is no “other” as Texas is heavily influenced by the immigrants that built it.

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