The House has voted to increase immigration to more than 1 million people a year -- the highest levels in U.S. history. Proponents of this so-called "reform" have created a series of myths to support these increases. Business interests have endeavored to convince us that a nation of 250 million people is running out of workers. Emerging ethnic interest groups have worked feverishly to create the myth that America is a land of expanding resources that can absorb virtually limitless population growth.
With a recent Roper Poll indicating that 77 percent of Americans oppose immigration increases, it is useful to separate myth from reality.
Myth 1: Immigrants pay more in taxes than they use in benefits.
Those making this claim use a definition of "benefits" that excludes medical care, education, public housing physical infrastructure and a wide range of other social services. At the federal level, immigration is about a break-even proposition, but at the state and local level, where most of these services are provided, immigration is costly. According to the Urban Institute, Los Angeles incurs a net loss of $2,245 per recent immigrant family.
Myth 2: We need immigrants today to retire the baby boomers tomorrow.
This is not only untrue, it's illogical. The average age of an immigrant is almost identical to that of the native population. Consequently, the typical immigrant of today will retire and begin collecting Social Security benefits just as the baby boomers retire.
Myth 3: We are an aging society that needs workers.
Modern economics tells us that this is increasingly irrelevant. Societies attain wealth through the wise investment of capital, not by increasing their supply of workers. The Japanese economic miracle belies the assertion that a large youthful work force is needed. Japan invested in automation, increased productivity and reduced costs.
Myth 4: Immigrants typically have higher incomes than natives.
Economists George Borjas, Barry Chiswick and others, who have analyzed the most recent data, have concluded that most immigrants who arrived after 1975 may never achieve economic parity with the rest of society in an increasingly technological economy. Traditionally immigrants have been risk-takers and entrepreneurs, but current policy -- based on family connections, not skills -- limits immigration to followers.
Myth 5: The House immigration bill is a skills-based immigration proposal.
Just the opposite. The House bill would actually reduce the percentage of immigrants selected on merit. While increasing skilled immigration slightly, most of the 400,000 new immigration visas would be allocated to the family-based categories.
Myth 6: Immigrants create more jobs than they take.
More of a half-truth than a myth. The presence of immigrants does create some kinds of jobs. However, they are often unnecessary, even detrimental in a post-industrial society as witnessed by the resurgence of sweatshops in America. It would be far more beneficial for American entrepreneurs to invest in automation, or, in the case of hopelessly labor-intensive operations, to move U.S.-owned factories to the home countries of the unskilled workers.
Myth 7: America has the capacity to absorb many more people.
Eighty-seven percent of Americans believe this country is already overpopulated. Moreover, one-quarter of new immigrants settle in just one state -- California -- an area with chronic water shortages and a worsening environment.
Myth 8: Immigrants have always succeeded and there's no reason to believe this wave will be any different.
Past waves of immigrants haven't always succeeded, and even if they had, that is no guarantee. The ultimate "success" of previous waves of immigrants took several generations, an almost total shut-off of new immigration, a depression, a world war and an unprecedented period of prosperity. Basing today's immigration policies on past history makes about as much sense as basing our national security on a strong cavalry.
Myth 9: Current immigration levels are historically low.
This falls into the category of "lies, damned lies and statistics." If legal and illegal immigration, refugees and asylums are counted, the 1980s saw the highest immigration levels in U.S. history. Only by playing the percentage game -- comparing a nation of 250 million people with one that used to be 60 million -- does immigration appear to be at historically low levels.
The writer is executive director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, an organization that lobbies to limit immigration.