The Struggles and Hardships of Undocumented Immigrants

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“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best… They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” This is part of a speech made by the 45th president of the United States, Donald J. Trump, during his Announcement Speech in June of 2015. It’s a sure thing that that type of sentiment and hatred was already in the hearts and minds of some citizens, but to have it vocalized and publicly announced by a leading presidential candidate is a completely different thing and a terrifying thing. This affects a lot of us, myself included, as I come from a family of immigrants. The fear of immigrants is not a new thing in the United States. Since the early stages of immigration, there have always been those that oppose the wave of new immigrants, associating violence and criminal activity as the root of their opposition, as well as their displeasure in having to “financially support” immigrants and citing them as a drain on society and the economy. In reality, there is a whole host of reasons as to why immigration actually benefits the United States, as well as its citizens and the economy.

One of the leading arguments against immigration is the association of gangs, violence, and criminal activity with immigrants. Those who oppose and cite violence as their main basis for arguing against immigration, legal or otherwise, recite cases that they’ve seen or heard from others the news outlets claiming immigrants are to blame for crime. In actuality, there have been multiple studies that all cite the same thing- immigration and crime have no correlation. As John Hagan and Alberto Palloni, authors of ‘Sociological Criminology and the Mythology of Hispanic Immigration and Crime’ state: “Our sociological knowledge of crime is fragmented and ineffective in challenging and correcting mistaken public perceptions, for example, linking immigration and crime. These misperceptions are perpetuated by government reports of growing numbers of Hispanic immigrants in U.S. prisons. However, Hispanic immigrants are disproportionately young males who regardless of citizenship are at greater risk of criminal involvement. They are also more vulnerable to restrictive treatment in the criminal justice system, especially at the pre-trial stage. When these differences are integrated into calculations using equations that begin with observed numbers of immigrants and citizens in state prisons, it is estimated that the involvement of Hispanic immigrants in crime is less than that of citizens. These results cast doubt on the hypothesis that immigration causes crime and make more transparent the immigration and criminal justice policies that inflate the rate of Hispanic incarceration. This transparency helps to resolve a paradox in the picture of Mexican immigration to the United States, since by most measures of well-being, Mexican immigrants are found to do as well and sometimes better than citizens.”

In fact, increased presence of immigrants is associated with lower crime rates—the opposite of what many Americans believe. Among young men age 18-39, the immigrants are incarcerated at a rate that is one-fourth the rate for the native-born men of the same age. Cities and neighborhoods with greater concentrations of immigrants have lower rates of crime and violence than those of non-immigrant neighborhoods (The Integration of Immigrants into American Society, 2015).

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Immigrants have also been of great asset to the U.S economy. For example, in 2013, immigrants alone brought in $1.6 trillion to the U.S. gross domestic product, or GDP (Estrada, n.p). A 2017 study done by senior policy analyst Lisa Christensen, concluded that (undocumented) immigrants contribute significantly to state and local taxes. She states, “…collectively paying an estimated $11.64 billion a year. Contributions range from almost $2.2 million in Montana with an estimated undocumented population of 4,000 to more than $3.1 billion in California, home to more than 3 million undocumented immigrants.” She also states that on average, undocumented immigrants pay an estimated 8 percent of their income to state taxes, while the top 1 percent of income earners pay just 5.4 percent in state taxes. Jason Furman, co-author of ‘Ten Ways Immigrants Help Build and Strengthen Our Economy’ states that not only do immigrants help bring in more money into the economy, but immigrants are also 30 percent more likely to start businesses than those who are native born in the U.S. He also concludes that about 20 percent of small business owners are immigrants, which help to produce more jobs that benefit people and the economy.

When interviewing my dad, an immigrant from Mexico, I asked how his presence in the United States helped with the economy. He replied, “Well I create jobs for people and give them opportunities. When I started my company up, I knew what it felt like to feel frustrated because no one would hire me because I was illegal or because my English wasn’t very good. I didn’t want to feel like that anymore and I needed to do better for my family, so when I became a citizen, I didn’t just want the bare minimum anymore and I didn’t settle.” Francine Lipman, author of ‘The Taxation of Undocumented Immigrants: Separate, Unequal, and Without Representation’ and professor of Law, Business, and Economics at Chapman University states: “Americans believe that undocumented immigrants are exploiting the United States’ economy. The widespread belief is that illegal aliens cost more in government services than they contribute to the economy. This belief is undeniably false… Every empirical study of illegals’ economic impact demonstrates the opposite: undocumenteds actually contribute more to public coffers in taxes than they cost in social services. Moreover, undocumented immigrants contribute to the U.S. economy through their investments and consumption of goods and services; filling of millions of essential worker positions resulting in subsidiary job creation, increased productivity and lower costs of goods and services; and unrequited contributions to Social Security, Medicare and unemployment insurance programs.”

I learned a lot about the struggle of getting into the U.S. and about the privilege that I and other immigrant born children have had, all thanks to our parent’s bravery. “Getting here… it was difficult. I had nothing on me but the clothes on my back and hunger. I remember being hungry and scared. I had to trust people that I didn’t even know. I didn’t know if I was going to make it.” Oftentimes, we like to categorize subjects into black and white spaces, right and wrong. In reality, topics, such as immigration, are most of the time varying shades of gray. When asked why the U.S. should allow immigrants in, he replied, “Well because it benefits everyone. It helps people escape bad situations in their home country and it helps bring money into the economy. Immigrants work hard and produce jobs because they start businesses and apply for jobs that people here don’t want. The people here also immigrated into a country that wasn’t theirs and just took it, that’s the irony of them not wanting immigrants; they themselves are illegal immigrants.”

The United States was built on the backs of immigrants. It was built with their blood, sweat, and sacrifice. They have historically played an important role in keeping the United States functioning smoothly and keeping it afloat. Trying to keep legal and illegal immigrants from migrating into the United States would be near impossible. It would also be morally and economically wrong, as immigrants, legal and not, play a huge role society. (1266)

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