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Myth and reality: an immigration quiz

Try this true-false quiz and see how much you know about immigration.

1. Undocumented immigrants come to the United States to get welfare.

2. Undocumented immigrants don’t pay taxes, but have access to public benefits.

3. Undocumented immigrants are a drag on the country’s economy.

4. Undocumented immigrants take jobs away from lawful Americans.

5. Federal law doesn’t punish employers for hiring undocumented workers, and state laws are needed to make sure employers verify legal residence.

6. The employment eligibility form is easy to fill out and the guidelines on verifying documents are clear.

7. E-Verify is an easy, quick and fool-proof way to check employment eligibility.

8. Day laborers are lazy people who don’t want to get a full-time job.

9. Day laborers are scheming for ways to make a lot of money without much effort.

10. English is the official language of the United States.

11. Immigrants don’t want to learn English.

12. Immigrants today are less willing to assimilate than immigrants in the past.

13. Bilingual education slows immigrant children’s learning of English.

14. “Do not rent” laws only affect undocumented immigrants.

15. State and local police officers think they should be able to hold undocumented immigrants for deportation.

16. All undocumented immigrants are criminals, because they are here illegally.

17. Giving immigrants access to a driver’s license would threaten national security.

18. Department of Motor Vehicles employees can easily verify immigration documents.

19. Immigrant access to a driver’s license will jeopardize highway safety.

20. Undocumented immigrants come to the United States to give birth to “anchor babies” that provide them a path to citizenship.

It may surprise you to know that the answer to all 20 of the questions is “false.”

Here are the realities:

1. Federal law prohibits undocumented immigrants from accessing any “federal public benefits,” including Medicaid; the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP); Social Security, including disability benefits; Medicare; food stamps; or cash assistance.

They can receive emergency services under Medicaid, public health programs for immunization against communicable diseases; or testing and treatment of communicable disease, short-term, in-kind, non-cash emergency disaster relief and school lunches and breakfasts, because Congress says benefits “serve the greater good” of the community.

2. Immigrants, legal and illegal, pay taxes in the form of income tax, property tax, sales tax and other taxes at the federal, state and local levels. In 2006, the IRS commissioner testified before Congress that undocumented workers paid almost $50 billion in federal taxes from 1996 to 2003. Estimates put income tax paid by immigrants at between $90 billion and $140 billion a year, and the 12 million undocumented workers in the U.S. pay into Social Security and Medicare at the rate of about $8.5 billion a year but are unable to ever collect benefits.

3. Immigrants are a net fiscal benefit to the U.S. economy. The National Academy of Sciences estimates that the average immigrant pays nearly $1,800 more in taxes than he or she receives in benefits each year.

4. Americans are unwilling to do many of the entry-level or physically demanding jobs that immigrants are eager to take. There are far more of these jobs — about 500,000 more — than the number of legal work visas the government issues.

5. Federal law has prohibited the hiring of undocumented workers since 1986. All new hires must fill out a Form I-9, which requires the employee to provide documentation of identity and work eligibility; then the employer must verify that the documents appear to be genuine and belong to the employer. Updating and reverification is required, and employers who don’t use the I-9 correctly faces a fine of $110 to $1,100. Unknowingly hiring an illegal worker carries a penalty from $275 to $2,200, and doing it repeatedly can mean a fine up to $3,000 and six months in jail.

6. Employers are in a tough spot when it comes to I-9 verification. If they are too strict, they risk violating the legal rights of legal workers. If they are too lax, they risk accepting false documentation. Most have never been given any training on verification of documents.

7. E-Verify allows an employer to enter all the I-9 data into a computer within three days of a new hire so the information can be compared with the Social Security Administration. or SSA, and Department of Homeland Security, or DHS, databases. The problem is, the SSA database was not developed for immigration enforcement and errors are rampant.

8. Day laborers seek work on a full-time basis, with 83% of them relying on day labor work as their sole income. 70% search for work at least five days a week. Only 9% work two days or less and 75% are in the market for three years or less, suggesting they often move to other jobs.

9. Day labor is usually hard work that pays $10 an hour or less. Most make less than the federal poverty threshold of $15,000 a year.

10. There is no federally declared “official language” of the United States.

11. Within 10 years of their arrival in this country, 75% of all immigrants speak English well or very well. There are long waiting lists for ESL classes.

12. Assertions to the contrary, today’s Asian and Latino immigrants are assimilating just as fast or faster than earlier generations of Italians, Russians or Germans. More than 95% of first generation Mexican-Americans are English-proficient, and over half of the second generation don’t speak Spanish. Census data show 90% of Latinos 5 years old or older speak English at home, and 98% of Latinos surveyed said they felt it “essential” that their children learn to read and write English “perfectly.”

13. Bilingual education not only helps immigrant children master English, it helps them keep up in subjects such as science, math and social studies.

14. “Do not rent” laws also hurt legal immigrants because many landlords, in an effort not to incur a fine, simply refuse to rent to Asians or Latinos.

15. State and local police want no part of immigration enforcement. They state lack of resources; an erosion of community trust, leading to failure to report crime; no money for training on how to verify documents; and the risk of racial or ethnic profiling lawsuits. Detaining suspected undocumented immigrants would overwhelm the most jails’ capacity, especially in rural areas.

16. Immigration status violations are civil offenses, not crimes. A large percentage of undocumented immigrants entered the country legally and overstayed their visas. This is not a crime. Crossing the border without a visa is a federal misdemeanor; but it is the act, not being here afterward, that can be prosecuted.

17. DMV databases on the whole are more reliable that DHS databases. Allowing immigrant licensing would give law enforcement the ability to verify identity, residences and addresses of foreign nationals. It enhances security rather than impairing it.

18. DMV workers have no way of verifying immigration status. There are more than 60 non-immigrant visa categories in addition to classifications for those seek asylum, refugees, parolees, persons in immigration proceedings and dozens of other variations on immigrant status.

19. Access to driver’s licenses means more competent drivers, more correctly and legally registered vehicles, and an increase in insured vehicles.

20. Immigration attorney Sarah Doll Heeke calls this one the “most ridiculous claim of them all.” A child cannot petition for legal status on behalf of a parent until he or she reaches the age of 21. “That’s a mighty long anchor,” Heeke says.


This article published in the February, 2012 edition of KANSAS FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.