As we move through the 2016 presidential election cycle, the issue of immigration will continue to be a central topic of the debate. The United States is at a tipping point after more than two decades without meaningful upgrades to its immigration system. Current U.S. law does not provide sufficient channels for legal immigration and does not respond to the country’s economic needs. As a result, we have a mismatch between labor supply and demand that is most dramatically illustrated by the millions of undocumented immigrants living in our country today.
Adding to the momentous challenge of reforming our immigration system is the fact that much of the debate around it is taking place in the context of a heated presidential election, where misstatements and half-truths often go unchecked. This makes it difficult for the public, who by and large support reform, to understand the nuts and bolts of what is needed to truly upgrade our immigration system.
In order to support a sane and fact-based debate, the American Immigration Council issued a guide, Giving the Facts a Fighting Chance: Addressing Common Questions on Immigration, which provides answers to many of the most common questions about current policies and what immigration means to the United States both socially and economically. The guide delves into a wide range of issues including the economic benefits of immigration, the high cost and diminishing returns of immigration enforcement, the various roles states play in immigration policy, and the importance of additional due process protections for those in immigration court proceedings.
The guide also tackles misinformation spread by some presidential candidates including accusations that immigrants tend to have high rates of criminal behavior. The truth is high rates of immigration actually equate with low levels of crime.
- Between 1990 and 2013, the foreign-born share of the U.S. population grew from 7.9 percent to 13.1 percent and the number of unauthorized immigrants more than tripled from 3.5 million to 11.2 million. During the same period, FBI data indicate that the violent crime rate declined 48 percent—which included falling rates of aggravated assault, robbery, rape, and murder. Likewise, the property crime rate fell 41 percent, including declining rates of motor vehicle theft, larceny/robbery, and burglary.
Additionally, the guide also answers questions around the much-debated topic of refugee admissions into the United States and reminds us that refugees are actually the most scrutinized group of migrants that enter the country:
- Refugees must pass multiple, intense background checks, medical screenings, and interviews in order to be accepted for admission into the country.
- On average, it can take over 1,000 days for refugees to be screened by federal agencies and approved for travel to the United States. The lengthy processing times mean some refugees must stay in dangerous locations or circumstances.
The guide also provides striking economic data regarding immigrant entrepreneurship:
- In 2013, 18 percent of business owners in the United States were foreign-born. Furthermore, 28 percent of “Main Street” business owners—those who bring businesses like grocery stores, restaurants, and clothing stores to neighborhoods—were foreign-born.
- Immigrants were founders of 18 percent of all Fortune 500 companies, many of which are high-tech giants. As of 2010, these companies generated $1.7 trillion in annual revenue, employed 3.6 million workers worldwide, and included AT&T, Verizon, Procter & Gamble, Pfizer, Comcast, Intel, Merck, DuPont, Google, Cigna, Sun Microsystems, United States Steel, Qualcomm, eBay, Yahoo!, and Nordstrom.
Answers to many other questions that arise in the immigration reform debate are addressed in this guide and it makes clear the U.S. immigration system is very different today than it was when prior generations of immigrants arrived. In fact, it notes that many of our ancestors might not have been allowed to enter the country had today’s laws been in effect even though today’s immigrants make enormous contributions to our economy and our communities—just as immigrants in the past did. Finally, the guide reminds us that any immigration policies we develop today must be based on facts and data, not hyperbole or political pot shots.