Immigration Myths and Facts

Montana MILE: Montanans for Immigration Law Enforcement

Claim: "Illegal alien" is an inappropriate term.

In this context, "alien" simply means "non-citizen," and the word has been used in this way for hundreds of years. (Recall the Alien and Sedition Acts of the early republic.) So if a non-citizen is here illegally -- either because he has crossed the border without inspection or he has overstayed a visa (after legal entry) -- it's accurate and concise to call him an "illegal alien" when his immigration status is the topic of discussion.  (Accordingly, the term "illegal alien" can be found in the U.S. Code, here for example.) Using this term doesn't necessarily imply anything else about the person's character, race, and/or ethnicity. Indeed, illegal aliens in the U.S. hail from all continents and all walks of life.


Claim: The proper terminology is "undocumented immigrant" or "undocumented worker."

Facts: "Undocumented immigrant" is inaccurate because an immigrant is someone who has entered the U.S. legally, possessing a visa that allows him to stay permanently. (Further, many illegal aliens have ample, but fraudulent, documentation!) Similarly, "undocumented worker" doesn't apply in general, since a substantial fraction of the illegal-alien stream are young children, people too old to work, and pregnant women about to give birth -- i.e. people who have no intention of working after their arrival.


Claim: Illegal immigration isn't really a crime.

Facts: You can go to prison for illegal immigration. So it's a crime! Here's the relevant language from the U.S. Code, Title 8, Section 1325a:

Improper entry by an alien

(a) Improper time or place; avoidance of examination or inspection; misrepresentation and concealment of facts

Any alien who

(1) enters or attempts to enter the United States at any time or place other than as designated by immigration officers, or

(2) eludes examination or inspection by immigration officers, or

(3) attempts to enter or obtains entry to the United States by a willfully false or misleading representation or the willful concealment of a material fact, shall, for the first commission of any such offense, be fined under title 18 or imprisoned not more than 6 months, or both, and, for a subsequent commission of any such offense, be fined under title 18, or imprisoned not more than 2 years, or both.


Claim: Lettuce will cost American consumers $5.00 per head if we don't have illegal aliens working in the fields.

Facts: Naturally, we call this claim "the lettuce argument," and it's false for lettuce and other vegetables and fruits. Research by Philip Martin, agricultural economist at the University of California (Davis), tells us that, if a head of lettuce costs $1, about 6 cents of that pays the field workers. So if we tripled wages for field hands -- at which point Americans would do the jobs -- we'd boost the cost of that head of lettuce to $1.12.

Extending this argument to fresh produce in general, consumers' costs would increase less than 15%, so a family that now spends, say, $800 per year on fruits and vegetables (about $15 per week) would incur additional costs of about $100 per year. This is a modest price for ending what amounts to modern-day slavery. (Note that Americans taking such jobs needn't view them as onerous careers. Instead, they are starter jobs, introductions to the world of work for young people.)


Claim: The "Statue of Liberty" welcomes immigration to America.

Facts: We used quotation marks just above on purpose because the statue's actual title is "Liberty Enlightening the World." It was a gift from the French people honoring the U.S. centennial. It celebrates the workings of ordered liberty in American society and suggests that such liberty is a useful example for other societies. The statue isn't about immigration, and it doesn't invite the world to move here. Further, Emma Lazarus's famous poem about "huddled masses, yearning to breathe free" that's often associated with the statue was added to the pedestal years later without the permission of Congress or of the American citizens who would have to make room for the "huddled masses" and "wretched refuse."

Today the U.S. is a crowded country. (Our "wide open spaces" are either needed to grow food or they're uninhabitable without huge flows of resources from elsewhere.) The resulting increased interference with each others' activities and the growing government regulation needed to referee it are making our lives ever less free. In short, continued mass immigration -- the biggest driver of U.S. population growth -- is destroying the liberty extolled by that famous statue.


Claim: The U.S. can solve the problem of world poverty by accepting lots of immigrants.

Facts: This claim is dispelled by just looking at the numbers.  In 2010, the U.S. population is about 310 million.  Meanwhile, several billion people worldwide are poorer than the average Mexican (and the average Mexican is poor compared to average Americans).  If we took in hundreds of millions, it would destroy the U.S. as a livable society while making barely a dent in the ranks of the poor worldwide.  Meanwhile, the population of poor countries grows by about 80 million per year.  This is all made startlingly clear in the famous six-minute "gumballs" video featuring Roy Beck of NumbersUSA.  (And to see where the U.S.'s own population is headed under our current regime of mass immigration, view Roy's newer ten-minute "charts" video.  Note that the Census Department projections used in that video don't include illegal immigration.)