We are a nation of immigrants. In 1990, the U.S. Census asked one out of six households what their ancestry or ethnic origin was. Here’s what they said:
- German: 15.2 percent
- Irish: 10.8 percent
- African-American: 8.8 percent
- English: 8.7 percent
- Mexican: 6.5 percent
- Italian: 5.6 percent
Although many of us have an abuela or nonna who came to the United States as an immigrant, in general most of us know very little about the current immigration policy in the U.S. and the impact immigrants have in our society.
Here are five common myths about immigrants and immigration in the U.S.:
1- Immigrants come to the U.S. to have babies so they can immediately get citizenship: FALSE
Parents who give birth to a child in the U.S. must wait for their child to be 21 years of age before he or she can apply for residency on their behalf.
2- Immigrants come to the U.S. to live off government assistance programs: FALSE
Most undocumented immigrants cannot receive benefits from the following major federal public assistance programs:
- SNAP (Food Stamps)
- Social Security
- TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families)
- SSI (Supplemental Security Income)
- HUD Public Housing Section 8
3- Immigrants don’t pay taxes or Social Security: FALSE
- In 2010 households headed by undocumented immigrants paid $11.2 billion in state and local taxes (income, property and sales taxes). The states that benefited the most from this tax revenue are California, Texas, Florida, New York and Illinois (Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy).
- Undocumented immigrants paid a net total of $12 billion into the Social Security system in 2007.
4- If immigrants want to come to the U.S. they can just apply to become U.S. citizens: FALSE
Immigrants must meet certain requirements in order to apply for permanent residency (green cards) and U.S. citizenship. Most immigrants who want to come to the U.S. legally may not meet the requirements, which are based on:
- Family relationship: A person petitions, or files paperwork for an immediate family member, such as a spouse, child (under 21 years of age and unmarried) or parent. Petitions can also be filed for sisters, brothers and married children, but the process could take years.
- Employment: a company files the immigration paperwork for an employee with very specialized skills
- Fear of persecution: a person proves that they fear being persecuted in their home country
- Diversity Visa Lottery: An immigrant who meets the education level requirement and is from a country with very low rates of immigration to the U.S. applies for one of 50,000 visas given each year.
5- The proposed Dream Act would open the floodgate for immigrant youth and their families to become U.S. citizens: FALSE
The proposed Dream Act would give certain immigrant students who grew up in the U.S. a chance to apply for conditional immigrant status and apply for U.S. citizenship after many years if they go to college or serve in the military. Only around 755,000 students could benefit from the DREAM Act. They wouldn’t be able to petition for residency for their parents if they also entered the country without documents. In 2010 the House of Representatives passed the DREAM Act but the Senate voted it down. The DREAM Act may be reintroduced in 2011.
Photo: ell brown