Immigration Myths and Facts

Since our primary mission as church is evangelization - carrying the good news of Jesus to everyone in every human situation, what better way to do this than by advocating a public policy which promotes the dignity of the human person, the importance of family and the common good of our society.  The following list of myths and facts, along with reasons why the church needs to be involved, will provide the reader with background in this work of evangelization.  

MYTH:  Immigrants take jobs away from Americans.
FACT:  A recent study produced by Pew Hispanic Center reveals that "Rapid increased in the foreign-born population at the state level are not associated with negative effects on the employment of native-born workers."  In fact, given that the number of native born low wage earners is falling nationally, immigrants are playing an important role in offsetting that decline.

MYTH:  Undocumented immigrants are a burden on the healthcare system.
FACT:  Federal, state and local governments spend approximately 1.1 billion dollars annually on healthcare costs for undocumented immigrants, aged 18-64, or approximately $11 in taxes for each U.S. household. This compares to 88 billion dollars spent on all health care for non-elderly adults in the U.S. in 2000.

MYTH: The Catholic Church supports illegal immigration and "open borders."
FACT: "The Bishops of the United States recognize the validity of and need for effective border enforcement that protects Americans from criminal and terrorist elements, allows for orderly and legal immigration, and respects the sovereign rule of law of the United States."

MYTH: Immigrants don't want to learn English.
FACT: The development of English proficiency among non-English speaking immigrants today mirrors that of nineteenth and early twentieth century immigration, when masses of Italian, German and Eastern European immigrants came to America. While first generation, non-English speaking immigrants predictably have lower rates of English proficiency than native speakers, 91% of second generation immigrants are fluent or near fluent English speakers. By the third generation, 97% speak English fluently or near fluently.

MYTH: Immigrants don't pay taxes.
FACT: Undocumented immigrants pay taxes. Between 50-75% of undocumented immigrants pay federal, state and local taxes. They also contribute to Medicare and provide as much as 7 billion dollars a year to the Social Security Fund. Further still, undocumented workers pay sales taxes where applicable and property taxes-directly if they own and indirectly if they rent.

MYTH: Immigrants increase the crime rate.
FACT: Recent research has shown that immigrant communities do not increase the crime rate and that immigrants commit fewer crimes than native born Americans. While the undocumented immigrant population doubled from 1994 to 2005, violent crime dropped by 34% and property crimes decreased by 32%.

MYTH: We need to close our borders to prevent another catastrophe like 9/11.
FACT: By legalizing the undocumented population and by creating more visas for workers to enter legally, we can better know who is in the country and who is coming, thus making us safer as a nation.


Why does the church care about immigration policies?

The Catholic Church has historically held a strong interest in immigration and how public policy affects immigrants seeking a new life in the United States.  Based on Scriptural and Catholic social teachings, as well as her own experience as an immigrant Church in the United States, the Catholic Church is compelled to raise her voice on behalf of those who are marginalized and whose God-given rights are not respected (e.g. human trafficking).

The Church believes that current immigration laws and policies have often led to the undermining of immigrants' human dignity and have kept families apart. The existing immigration system has resulted in a growing number of persons in this country in an unauthorized capacity, living in the shadows as they toil in jobs that would otherwise go unfilled. Close family members of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents must wait years for a visa to be reunited. And, our nation's border enforcement strategies have been ineffective and have led to the death of thousands of migrants.

The Church has a responsibility to shine the message of God on this issue and help to build bridges between all parties so that an immigration system can be created that is just for all and serves the common good, including the legitimate security concerns of our nation.

Does the Catholic Church support illegal immigration?
The Catholic Bishops do not condone unlawful entry or circumventions of our nation's immigration laws. The bishops believe that reforms are necessary in order for our nation's immigration system to respond to the realities of separated families and labor demands that compel people to immigrate to the United States, whether in an authorized or unauthorized fashion.

Our nation's economy demands foreign labor, yet there are insufficient visas to meet this demand. Close family members of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents face interminable separations, sometimes of twenty years or longer, due to backlogs of available visas. U.S. immigration laws and policies need to be updated to reflect these realities.

Does the Catholic Church support "amnesty"?
The Catholic bishops are proposing an earned legalization for those in this country in an unauthorized status and who have built up equities and are otherwise admissible. "Amnesty," as commonly understood, implies a pardon and a reward for those who did not obey immigration laws, creating inequities for those who wait for legal entry. The bishops' proposal is not an "amnesty."

The Bishops' earned legalization proposal provides a window of opportunity for undocumented immigrants who are already living in our communities and contributing to our nation to come forward, pay a fine and application fee, go through rigorous criminal background checks and security screenings, demonstrate that they have paid taxes and are learning English, and obtain a visa that could lead to permanent residency, over time.

This article is adapted from materials available at the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops which provides information, resources and action ideas at Justice for Immigrants.

Office of Cultural Diversity
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