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Blaming Immigrants Won’t Solve the Problem
Julieta Velasquez
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This country was built by immigrants. But the topic of immigration has always sparked strong emotion—and a lot of misinformation. Too often people hear “illegal immigrants” and associate those people with crime and corruption. Media focus primarily on the problems immigrants bring to the United States and not the benefits. We see frightening images on the news of immigrants portrayed as criminals or rounded up like cattle and taken away by immigration officials.

The reality is that most immigrants didn’t come here to become criminals, take the jobs of citizens, or to live off of the government. Those in developing countries may not always have access to health care, education, food, or even a stable home. There are countless stories about poverty, persecution, oppression, and war driving people to the United States. Americans who complain about immigration should ask themselves what they would do under the same desperate circumstances.

With the unemployment rate so high—8.5%—it’s easy to imagine that deporting the eight million undocumented immigrants who work in this country would create more jobs for Americans. But that’s not really true, according to a 2010 article by FactCheck. The article highlights research by economists showing that undocumented immigrants usually don’t compete with American workers, who seek higher-skilled jobs with better pay and benefits. (The one group of Americans hurt by illegal immigration are people without high school diplomas, since they tend to have lower skills.) And because immigrants, like other residents, buy things in the community, they often create more jobs for Americans as businesses expand to meet the increased demand for products and services.

Deporting all of these hard-working people who fill low-skilled jobs in U.S. industries like agriculture, restaurants, and construction would harm the economy because businesses would lose workers. That happened in Alabama, which last year passed a very restrictive immigration law. The law states that no employer is allowed to hire illegal immigrants under any circumstances, that schools should do background checks on new students, and that residents must prove their legality when applying for a driver’s license or a job.

Many immigrants fled the state, and schools have reported a significant number of absences. A large number of immigrants stopped showing up to work, too scared to even leave their homes. The Associated Press reported in October that some frustrated business owners were complaining about the law. American workers hired to replace the immigrant workers quit within a few days due to the strenuous labor and low wages. As a result, productivity for many Alabama businesses dropped.

The immigration system is flawed, but instead of making scapegoats out of immigrants, the U.S. should conduct a serious system cleanup. Many Americans worry about immigrants using public services and welfare. While some immigrants, like some American citizens, may take advantage of the system, it’s a misconception that most immigrants who come here live off the government.

The United States could do a better job of protecting these systems from fraud and abuse by conducting thorough background checks on welfare applicants. That’s a better idea than punishing hard-working immigrants who contribute to the economy.

A recent article in The Nation magazine shed light on a side of the immigration issue rarely discussed in this country: how U.S. policies sometimes ignite immigration. Since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) exposed Mexican markets to U.S. imports in the 1990s, things haven’t been the same for Mexican business owners and workers. American companies have put many Mexicans out of work, causing them to migrate to the United States in search of employment.

Our focus on the immigrants themselves is too narrow. We need immigration reform that looks at how our country is affecting the economies of other countries, and ask ourselves whether or not it really makes sense to blame immigrants for our economic problems.

This story is part of the media/news literacy series, which is generously supported by the McCormick Foundation.

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(NYC-2012-01-06b)

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