Ten Myths About Immigration

By Katherine Fennelly, Professor at the Humphrey H. Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, IHRC Affiliate

There are almost as many myths about immigrants in the United States as immigrants themselves. Some of these myths are the result of the complexities of immigration categories and laws; others are the result of purposeful distortion by anti-immigrant groups.

Following is a list of ten prevalent myths, and some facts to counteract them. For more details and a list of sources, see the ‘Ten Myths’ slide presentation on the Humphrey Institute web site at http://www.hhh.umn.edu/people/kfennelly/writings.html

Myth #1: Most immigrants come to the US for economic motives
Reality: About two thirds of immigrants come to the US to be reunited with family members.

Myth #2: Contemporary immigrants to the US ‘don’t assimilate’ as rapidly as immigrants who came in the 1900’s
Reality: Large percentages of European immigrants who came to the US in the early 1900s returned home to Europe. Among those who stayed, many did not give up their home language, religion, food or dress until the third or fourth generation.

Myth #3: Americans do not welcome new immigrants/ Americans do welcome new immigrants
Reality: These statements are both true. America takes pride in being a nation of immigrants and accepts more immigrants and refugees than most other countries. However, Americans are divided in their attitudes toward immigrants.

Myth #4: Immigrants are not as healthy native-born Americans
Reality: Numerous studies have shown that first generation immigrants are actually healthier than US-born residents on a wide variety of measures (fewer disabilities and chronic health conditions and risk behaviors; better birth outcomes and longer life expectancies). However, these health advantages are lost over time in the US.

Myth #5: Immigrants are less educated and less skilled than US-born residents
Reality: In fact, there are higher proportions of immigrants at both extremes: among the highly skilled and highly educated, and among the lower skilled, less educated.

Myth #6: Immigration hurts the economy
Reality: To summarize a recent report by the national Council of Economic Advisors, “careful studies of the long-run fiscal effects of immigration conclude that it is likely to have a modest, positive influence.? Furthermore, a young, foreign-born workforce is essential in a country that is rapidly aging.

Myth #7: Immigrants cost more than they contribute.
Reality: As the National Research Council reminds us, ‘studies often over-state the cost of immigration by measuring costs before adults reach working age.’ Furthermore, many Americans don’t realize that, while immigrants use services, just as US residents do, they also pay taxes –income taxes, property taxes, business taxes and sales taxes.

Myth #8: Immigrants don’t learn English as rapidly as European immigrants did.
Reality: There is no evidence to support this claim. In fact, it took many generations for some European immigrants to learn English, while today the vast majority of children of immigrants are fluent in English.

Myth #9: Immigrants are ‘criminals’.
Reality: A number of studies have shown that contemporary immigrants (including undocumented immigrants) are less likely to commit crimes or to be in prison than are US-born residents

Myth #10: A border fence will solve the problems of undocumented immigrants
Reality: There are millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States for a simple reason: companies need young workers and recruit immigrants to take many jobs, but the federal government issues almost no visas to low skilled immigrants. Until this ‘mismatch’ is fixed, the current trend will continue-- increases in border spending that coincide with increases in the number of undocumented residents.


Katherine Fennelly is Professor of Public Affairs at the Hubert H.
Humphrey Institute, University of Minnesota, and the 2006-2007
Fesler-Lampfer Chair in Urban and Regional Affairs. Her research,
teaching and outreach interests include immigration and public policy,
leadership in the public sector, the human rights of immigrants and
refugees in the United States, and the preparedness of communities and
public institutions to adapt to demographic changes. Recent projects and
publications focus on the determinants of attitudes toward immigrants
and their successful integration into US communities.

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This page contains a single entry by Dan Ott published on November 5, 2007 11:38 AM.

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