Sin País

PBS Premiere: Aug. 9, 2012Check the broadcast schedule »

In Context

A list of 5 common myths about immigration to the United States.

Myth #1: Immigrants don't pay taxes and "freeload" off of the welfare system.
Immigrants pay taxes, just like anyone else--between $90 and $140 billion a year in federal, state and local taxes. Moreover, it's estimated that immigrants earn about $240 billion a year, pay $90 billion or more a year in taxes and use only about $5 billion in public benefits annually, so the government makes money off of immigrants--often because undocumented workers are afraid they'll get caught if they use public services such as health care. Undocumented immigrants pay income taxes, too: The Social Security Administration's balance of taxes that cannot be matched to workers' names and social security numbers grew by $20 billion between 1990 and 1998. While employers are obligated to ask for Social Security numbers, they don't have to confirm the authenticity of those numbers, leading to the use of millions of false Social Security cards. Often an undocumented immigrant applies for an ITIN number, which can be used in place of a Social Security number for the sole purpose of paying income taxes.

Myth #2: Immigrants don't want to learn English because they want to make Spanish our national language and take over our culture.
While 83 percent of immigrants to the United States do not speak English at home, a recent survey by the Pew Hispanic Center shows that a clear majority of Latinos (57 percent) believe that immigrants have to speak English to be a part of American society. And it is Latino immigrants, rather than native-born Latinos, who are more likely to say that immigrants must learn English. Another study published by the Population and Development Review concluded that English is not under threat as the dominant language spoken in the United States--even in Southern California, home to the largest concentration of Spanish-speaking immigrants.

Myth #3: Immigration to the United States has increased over the last century.
This is technically true in terms of sheer numbers, but keep in mind that at the start of the 20th century, the U.S. population was less than half what it is now. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in the early 20th century, the foreign-born population was about 15 percent of the total population, whereas now it stands at about 11.5 percent, so the rate of immigration relative to the United States-born population--the most accurate indicator--has decreased.

Myth #4: Immigrants on average are dramatically less educated than native-born Americans.
Taken together, immigrants on average have perhaps one year less education than Americans born in the United States. The proportion of immigrants in the labor force who have a bachelor's or post-graduate degree is higher than that of the native labor force, and the proportion of adult immigrants with eight or fewer years of education has been decreasing, while the proportion of adult immigrants with 16 years or more of education has been increasing.

Myth #5: Immigrants cause unemployment because they take jobs from native-born Americans.
The largest wave of immigration to the United States since the 1900s coincided with our lowest national unemployment rate and fastest economic growth. Many studies have shown that even among low-paid and minority groups, immigrants do not cause native unemployment. Many believe that, if anything, immigrants create new jobs with their purchasing power and the new businesses they start, a pattern that has been particularly important with the emergence of the high-tech industry. According to one recent study, immigrant entrepreneurs founded 25 percent of all U.S. engineering and technology companies launched in the last decade--such as Google, for example, which was co-founded by Russian immigrant Sergey Brin. Immigrant-founded companies were estimated to have generated $53 billion in sales in 2005 and created about 450,000 jobs as of 2005. In 2011, immigrants created 28% of all new firms and were twice as likely to start new businesses when compared to those born in the United States. Many immigrants also take low skilled, low paid jobs in agriculture and the service industry.

Caption: Mejia family portrait
Credit: Photo still from Sin País

» Cato Institute. "Immigration: The Demographic and Economic Facts."
» Wadhwa, Vivek, Saxenian, AnnaLee, Rissing, Ben A. and Gereffi, Gary, America's New Immigrant Entrepreneurs: Part I (January 4, 2007). Duke Science, Technology & Innovation Paper No. 23. Available at SSRN: or
» Dwoskin, Elizabeth. "Many Fast-Growing U.S. Jobs Go to Immigrants." Bloomberg BusinessWeek, March 15, 2012.
» Immigration Forum. "Top Ten Immigrants Myths and Facts."
» Pew Hispanic Center. "Hispanic Attitudes Toward Learning English."
» Population Council. "Linguistic Life Expectancies: Immigrant Language Retention in Southern California."
» U.S. Census Bureau. "The Foreign-Born Population in the United States: 2003."
» U.S. Census Bureau. "Historical Census Statistics on the Foreign-born Population of the United States: 1850-1990."