What are the facts (not the myths) surrounding immigration?

Editor’s note: Respect Life Month is celebrated in October. In celebration of the month, the Florida Catholic will offer a variety of stories that span the intricate culture of life. In this edition, the Florida Catholic explores immigration myths and facts. While not traditionally seen as a “respect life issue,” at the heart of immigration is the concept of preserving human dignity for all people of God, no matter their race, country of origin and religion. As such, immigration is a key respect life issue.

MELBOURNE  |  In the more than 40 years of working in farmworking and immigrant communities, Sister Ann Kendrick has never seen the political climate in the United States so fraught with contention.

It has brought tears to her eyes and to those she serves, including a teen from Mexico who approached the Sister of Notre Dame de Namour with the question, “Sister Ana, why do they hate us so?” Without missing a beat, Sister Kendrick answered, “Because they don’t know you.”

“I have never felt such harsh meanness, rejection, fear and racism toward the people I know, love and who have taught me core Gospel values by their humble, generous and faith-filled lives,” said the founder of the Hope CommUnity Center in Apopka. “As I experience daily the suffering of immigrant families, both documented and undocumented, I wonder what has happened to the call of God for us to become the ‘beloved community?’”

Unfortunately, the spiritual community of believers is not immune from participating in such rhetoric. Many times misinformation and prejudices offer unfounded credence to arguments against the immigrant communities and cover a variety of socio-economic aspects. The Florida Catholic explored some of the following issues and discovered they are more myth than fact. Those examples include:

• It is a myth to believe immigrants don’t pay taxes and are a drain on the economy.

• It is a myth to believe all immigrants won’t learn English and take away American jobs.

• It is a myth to believe immigrants cause crime rates to soar and that the U.S. opens its borders without background checks.

• It is a myth to believe the Catholic Church does not subscribe to legal immigration.
The Florida Catholic delved into resources developed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops under the auspices of the Justice for Immigrants Campaign to mythbust those issues. One example from the campaign that serves as a mythbusting example concerns taxes.

FACT: Immigrants — legal and undocumented — pay taxes

According to the Justice for Immigrants Campaign (JFI): “Undocumented immigrants pay taxes. Between 50 percent to 75 percent of undocumented immigrants pay federal, state and local taxes. They also contribute to Medicare and provide as much as $9 billion 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.”

The campaign spoke about many other issues that dispute some common immigration facts. The Florida Catholic presents some of those facts below. Those preceded by “JFI” come from the Justice for Immigrants Campaign and are reprinted with permission from the bishops’ conference. The Florida Catholic also spoke with professionals in the immigration field and researched information offered by the White House to help dispel some immigration myths.

FACT: Refugees entering the U.S. are fully vetted

According to the White House, there is a nine-step screening process for refugees desiring entrance into the United States. One of those latter steps includes “recurrent vetting.” The following is information taken from the White House’s Novembesr 2015 infographic “Screening Process for Refugee Entry into the United States.”

Recurrent vetting: Throughout this process, pending applications continue to be checked against terrorist databases, to ensure new, relevant terrorism information has not come to light. If a match is found, that case is paused for further review. Applicants who continue to have no flags continue the process. If there is doubt about whether an applicant poses a security risk, they will not be admitted.”

As he serves in refugee resettlement for Catholic Charities of Central Florida, Richard Logue is familiar with that process. He said current anti-refugee rhetoric has been primarily directed toward Muslim refugees from the Middle East.

“Syrian refugees entering the U.S. today have undergone a nearly two-year vetting process before being approved for refugee status,” Logue explained. “These refugees are fleeing horrific conditions in their home countries. They come to this country to rebuild their lives following often unimaginable circumstances. Refugees from the Middle East have the same hopes and dreams for themselves and their children as previously resettled refugee groups. As a country which has been a sanctuary for refugees over the years, our commitment to welcoming them should continue.”

Within the St. Augustine Diocese, Michelle Karolak has had significant experience and success with refugee resettlement. She serves as director of the Refugee Resettlement Catholic Charities Bureau in Jacksonville.

“In Jacksonville, we have those with Special Immigrant Visas — people from Cuba, Afghanistan and Iraq who have previously worked with our military or other U.S. government projects. Some have had to flee,” she said. “With the political controversy of this election year, it’s easy to forget that the refugee program is a humanitarian assistance program. The people that we serve have been forced to leave their country of origin. They come through our doors scared, with broken spirits and hearts. Despite their fears, with coaching and compassion from our staff and volunteers, they find work, pay taxes, attend school, buy homes and rediscover their dignity while pursuing the American dream.”

FACT: The Catholic Church supports legal immigration and borders

JFI: “The Catholic Church does not support law-breaking or open borders. 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.”

Ingrid M. Delgado, associate for social concerns/respect life for the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops, said it is important to look at “the root causes of migration” and ask the question, “Why are these people choosing to migrate?”

“They’re migrating to sustain themselves,” Delgado explained. “Our U.S. bishops support good comprehensive immigration reform and support the developmental efforts in Third World countries to make migration no longer a necessity. We as Catholics realize our faith transcends borders. We really care about human life and realize these are our brothers and sisters.”

Delgado said it is important to focus on border security, but added the U.S. economy creates a demand for migrant laborers. Still, that supply of workers should not exceed the demand.

“Many immigrants don’t want to remain here, but desire to return home,” she said. “There must be a pathway to citizenship or legal status for those who do want to remain. A pathway is not the same as amnesty. A pathway is only for those who desire legal status, have been paying taxes and are contributing members of society. It’s an earned status that would take years to reach citizenship.”

FACT: Immigrants benefit the economy

JFI: “The immigrant community in the United States is, in fact, a net benefit to the economy. A recent Congressional Budget Office Report states that “over the past two decades, most efforts to estimate the fiscal impact of immigration in the United States have concluded that, in aggregate and over the long term, tax revenues of all types generated by immigrants — both legal and unauthorized — exceed the cost of the services they use.” Research reported by both the CATO Institute and the President’s Council of Economic Advisors reveals that the average immigrant pays a net $80,000 more in taxes than they collect in government services. For immigrants with college degrees, the net fiscal return is $198,000.”

Randolph McGrorty is a lawyer and chief executive officer of Catholic Legal Services for the Miami Archdiocese. His paternal grandfather came to the U.S. from Ireland in 1910 at a time when “the Irish were considered not desirable.”

As a Miami resident, he is familiar with how immigrants shape a community. He said every year for decades, Miami receives 40,000 people from Cuba.

“They’re concentrated in one area and we haven’t experienced a problem — in fact, they’re credited with building Miami into the city it is,” McGrorty said. “Almost every Cuban comes illegally, but through administrative care — a parole — they’re made legal and put on a path to citizenship and it’s all done on paper. Cubans are immediately given work authorization and they go to work. I see this every day in our office.”
McGrorty said starting two years ago, there was an increase in the number of unaccompanied children at the border.

“There were reports of ‘streaming kids’ and ‘we’re being invaded!’ At the high point, 60,000 kids were dispersed throughout the U.S.,” he said. “Their unlawful crossing is very dangerous. Kids aren’t evading the process; they’re presenting themselves for the opportunity to work, go to school and become legal. We need a good fair system and we need it right now.”

FACT: Immigrants work in jobs Americans don’t want

JFI: A study produced by the Pew Hispanic Center reveals that, “Rapid increases 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. The Urban Institute reports that between 2000 and 2005, the total number of low-wage workers declined by approximately 1.8 million while the number of unskilled immigrant workers increased by 620,000, thus offsetting the total decline by about a third.”

Richard Logue, program director for Immigration and Refugee Services for Catholic Charities of Central Florida in Orlando, said most Central Florida immigrants work in agriculture and the service industries, which both have a difficult time attracting U.S. workers.

“Immigrants actually fill a labor shortage in low-wage jobs,” he said.

Peter Routsis-Arroyo, chief executive officer of Catholic Charities in the Venice Diocese, agreed.
“People coming here are working in the fields — areas that other people don’t want to work,” Routsis-Arroyo said. “They are undocumented, hiding in the shadows, paying taxes, performing jobs that no one else will do. They cross the border because of oppression or lack of opportunities to even live and then there is no process — no line for a Central American or Mexican to enter the country. There is no line as in the days of Ellis Island when our ancestors stood in line to be processed into the U.S.”

FACT: Learning English is as much of a priority to immigrants as in years past

JFI: “The development of English-language proficiency among non-English speaking immigrants today mirrors that of 19th- and early 20th-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 percent of second generation immigrants are fluent or near-fluent English speakers. By the third generation, 97 percent speak English fluently or near fluently.”

Routsis-Arroyo said he is amazed that people with only three or four years of education who come from indigenous areas of Mexico and Guatemala within a year master Spanish and in three to four years are fluent in English.

“We are primarily monolingual as a country, but these are people without a formal education and they’re learning not one but two languages,” Routsis-Arroyo said. “Because immigrants continue to speak Spanish at home or attend a Spanish Mass, it doesn’t mean they don’t want to learn English.”

Working in refugee resettlement in Jacksonville, Karolak knows of hundreds of people involved in English as a Second Language programs. She highlights one case in which the immigrant is studying for the bar exam in law school.

“Learning English is a top priority and (it is a) privilege for them to go to school,” Karolak said, who added the immigrants go beyond just learning the language. “We also have a tax program teaching people who are contributing how to file their tax returns.”

FACT: Immigrants do not increase the crime rate

JFI: “Recent research has shown that immigrant communities do not increase the crime rate, and that newly arriving immigrants tend to commit fewer crimes than native-born Americans. Ruben Rumbaut, a professor of sociology at Brandeis University, found that ‘even as the undocumented population has doubled to 12 million since 1994, the violent crime rate in the United States has declined 34.2 percent and the property crime rate has fallen 26.4 percent.’ Cities where there are high levels of immigrants, such as New York, Chicago and Miami experienced declines in violent crime during this period. Other cities with numerous immigrants, such as El Paso and Laredo, are among the country’s safest cities to live in.”

Todd Scribner, who serves as education outreach coordinator for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services, cited “The Criminalization of Immigration in the United States, American Immigration,” released by the American Immigration Council.

“One of the dominant myths that distorts any debate on immigration is the idea that immigrants are criminals and commit crimes at higher rates than native-born citizens,” Scribner said. “This is a false assumption. Immigrants are less likely to be behind bars and less likely to engage in criminal behavior. For example, while only about 1.6 percent of immigrant males between the ages of 17-39 are incarcerated, 3.3 percent of native-born men are in prison.”

Immigration does not have to be a source of burden or fear. But the myths surrounding immigrants can be both burdensome and frightening. Back in Apopka, Sister Kendrick has seen the damage that myths can produce. Perhaps education can open people’s minds — and perhaps more importantly their hearts — to the true facts about immigration in the United States.

“We are experiencing a dark night of the soul (that) requires a new heart, and new ways of being present, new solutions to complex realities and listening deeply to what the signs of the times (God’s voice) are calling us,” Sister Kendrick said. “The work of fostering inclusive, diverse communities of care and connection goes on and never ends.”

For more information about the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Justice for Immigrants “Myths About Immigration” campaign, visit www.justiceforimmigrants.org/documents/immigration-myths.pdf and “Countering the Myths” www.justiceforimmigrants.org/myths.shtml