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  • Writer's pictureMargaret Nelson

Myths and Facts About Immigrants

The United States is a country of immigrants. Unless we have Native American ancestry, our ancestors came to the United States from other countries. Many came to escape persecution, seek refuge, and find opportunities not available in their own countries.

Immigrants are often a positive asset to any country, including the United States. Once an individual or family decides to leave their country and start anew here, they are trusting in the American Dream enough to risk everything. They work hard to pave their way in this country. Many start small businesses, which help local economies. They value education and encourage their children to learn English and pursue higher education. Many consider it a dream and a privilege to live in this country.

A picture of the Statue of Liberty against a partly cloudy sky.
Immigrants strengthen our country

At ReDefiners World Languages, our goal is to develop multilingual and multicultural people. Being multicultural means knowing how to navigate other cultures. The more we interact with different cultures, the more the topic of immigration will surface. For many, though, immigration is an uncomfortable subject to discuss. Too often, civil discussions can devolve into arguments, name-calling, and finger-pointing. Both sides walk away feeling like they’re right and the other person is an ignorant moron. Ultimately, nothing gets accomplished.

For people who want to successfully navigate other cultures, ignoring this topic is not an option. Part of being multicultural is standing with others who navigate more than one culture, such as immigrants. Whether you’re a recent immigrant or you were born in the United States, it’s critical to stand up for immigrants’ rights. Even if you don’t know anyone who might have recently moved to the U.S., this is still an important topic, one that you need to know how to discuss. To have a productive conversation, we have to know the facts, not opinions or feelings. Such discussions are only possible when you’re working with factual information.

A curved bookshelf filled with books.
Working with factual information is crucial for any discussion.

Unfortunately, immigrants, migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers have been under attack in recent years because many view these individuals as a threat, despite evidence to the contrary. They are often unfairly scapegoated for societal issues. There are a lot of myths that we need to address. But before we do so, we need to differentiate immigrants, visa holders, refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers. We also need to understand U.S. immigration policies in the last few years.

What is an Immigrant?

An immigrant (or permanent resident alien) is someone who is legally admitted to the United States with the intent of staying permanently. This category includes green card holders and naturalized citizens.

What is a Naturalized Citizen?

Naturalization is where the government grants U.S. citizenship to lawful permanent residents after meeting the requirements established in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). There are different requirements for the citizenship process, depending on the applicant’s situation. These requirements may differ if the applicant is a lawful permanent resident of 5 years, married to a U.S. citizen, serving in the U.S. military, or a child of a U.S. citizen. Though these paths differ, they have some commonalities, such as showing proof that you’ve lived in the same area for a certain period; demonstrating knowledge of the constitution, civics, and U.S. history; and being of sound character and demonstrating allegiance to the United States.

What is a Green Card Holder?

A Green Card Holder (or a Lawful Permanent Resident) is a non-citizen authorized to live permanently in the United States. Although they are not citizens, Green Card holders can accept employment offers, own property, receive financial aid at public colleges and universities, and join the Armed Forces. If they meet eligibility requirements, they can apply for citizenship.

What is a Visa Holder?

A Visa is a document that grants visitors the right to be in the United States temporarily. There are several different types of visas, depending on the person’s reasons for traveling. There are two main categories of visas, those for immigrants and those for non-immigrants. There are visas for many different groups: tourists, students, employees, temporary workers, domestic employees (such as nannies or au pairs), and victims of human trafficking or other criminal activities, among others. Immigrant visas include those for spouses and fiancé(e)s, certain family members of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, and intercountry adoption of orphan children by U.S. citizens. In this category, there are also employer-sponsored immigrant visas, such as visas for employees, religious workers, Iraqi and Afghan Translators/interpreters, and Iraqis and Afghans who worked for or on behalf of the U.S. government.

What is a Refugee?

A refugee is a person who must flee their country of origin due to persecution, war, or violence. They must experience an actual or well-founded fear of persecution due to their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. Due to dangerous conditions, they cannot return home without the threat of severe injury or death. They must live elsewhere, at least until the threat of danger has passed.

What is a Migrant?

A Migrant is a person who leaves their country of origin to seek residence in another country. They may enter another country through illegal means. Because of this, this category is often the most controversial. The rate of illegal immigration is often a talking point for politicians, especially around election time. Their lack of legal status can leave them especially vulnerable.

What is an Asylum-Seeker?

An Asylum-seeker is someone who has fled their home country due to violence or the threat of violence. They share many similarities with Refugees, but there is one distinct difference: Asylum-seekers don’t have any legal rights until they become Refugees. Until that point, the authorities can send them back to their countries of origin. In other words, all Refugees were once Asylum-seekers, but not every Asylum-seeker will become a Refugee.

Immigration in Recent Years

Since the election of Donald Trump, the issue of immigration has been in the national spotlight. From 2017-2020, there has been a string of controversies, resulting in intense backlash.

Here is a sampling of the Trump administration’s immigration policies:

  • Within a week after his inauguration, then-president Trump denied entry to people from seven Muslim-majority countries, citing terrorism threats. The ban also suspended all refugee admissions for 120 days. A federal district judge put parts of the ban on hold since the administration had not shown sufficient evidence that people from the banned countries carried out attacks or planned to do so. Eventually, the court upheld a revised version of the order, imposing permanent travel restrictions on Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, North Korea, and officials from Venezuela. Certain people from these countries were allowed entry on a case-by-case basis, provided they weren’t a safety threat. As a result, between 2017 and 2018, permanent residence approval dropped by 72% for Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen.

  • The administration required those seeking entry at the U.S.-Mexico border to remain in Mexico. Asylum-seekers couldn’t enter the United States if they first crossed through another country and didn’t apply for asylum in that country. For example, under this policy, if someone from Honduras traveled to the U.S. on foot but didn’t apply for asylum in Mexico, they could be denied entry to the U.S. These two policies were known as the Migrant Protection Protocols. These policies sparked a lot of criticism from advocacy groups. One advocacy group found that over 100 people had been the target of a violent crime (such as rape, kidnapping, etc.) while waiting in Mexico for their court date.

  • In 2018, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a new “zero tolerance” policy. Anyone who crossed the border illegally would be subject to criminal charges. If they brought children, the authorities would remove them. At the time, over 2,500 children were separated from their parents, although the exact number was unknown. After severe public backlash, the family separation policy ended on June 20th, 2018. That August, however, the administration attempted to create a policy to allow the indefinite detention of families.

  • Throughout the Trump Administration, the cap for refugees lowered with each passing year. In 2017, the cap was at 50,000 people. In 2018, the administration decreased the cap to 45,000, and authorities admitted 22,491. In 2019, the administration again lowered the cap to 30,000, and 30,000 refugees came. The administration reduced the 2020 cap to 18,000 people. For context, the Obama administration set the refugee cap to 110,000 people in the fiscal year 2017. This news came when the United Nations Refugee Agency saw the highest number of displaced people in 70 years.

In April, the Biden administration originally planned to uphold the cap set in place by the Trump administration for 2021-just 15,000 people. After receiving backlash, President Biden increased the cap to 62,500. However, it is not likely that the U.S. will reach that number this year. Because the government admitted so few refugees over the past four years, many refugee and resettlement agencies lost funding and closed. As a result, there is a backlog of people seeking entry with few resources to address it. The Biden administration is working to address this backlog but acknowledged that doing so will take time.

To say that immigration is a prevalent issue is an understatement. To discuss any problem and take the best course of action, we need correct information. Unfortunately, there have been a large number of myths circulating. At best, these myths cause more confusion. At worst, they can increase feelings of xenophobia and fuel anti-immigrant attacks, making immigrants’ lives much harder than necessary.

To combat these myths, we need to know what they are and explore them. Let’s now discuss some of the most common myths about immigration and immigrants.

  • Immigrants are overrunning our country, and most are here illegally.

There have been many iterations of this myth in recent years. Most recently, it resurfaced with the inauguration of President Biden. Some have accused the Biden administration of opening the borders for anyone to come in. Despite this accusation, the reality is that most immigrants (60%) have been here for at least 15 years. While 10.7 million undocumented immigrants lived in the U.S. in 2016, this only accounts for 3.5% of the U.S. population. This figure is the lowest this number has been since 2004.

As someone who lives in a border state, I can vouch that this myth is false. While there have been surges of migrants at the border, it’s incorrect to say that they are “overrunning” the country. Once there was an uptick in border crossings, local nonprofits put out emergency appeals for money and volunteers. In fact, at one nonprofit, so many people wanted to help that they put the remaining people on a waiting list. They’ve been able to feed, clothe, house, and administer Covid-19 tests to everyone. If we were in an out-of-control situation, nonprofits would need all of the help that they could get. The fact that they put people on a waiting list says that they have this situation under control.

Even if you live close to the U.S.-Mexico border, it’s unlikely that you would see migrants or asylum seekers in your everyday life. Most adults who enter illegally are expelled within hours. In addition, authorities take children to processing centers, where they’re then taken to shelters and other facilities. Most Border Patrol facilities are surrounded by fencing, or they’re located in desolate areas. These individuals are highly unlikely to interact with the general public. Even if they did, you wouldn’t know if they arrived legally or illegally just by looking at them.

In addition, the border has been closed to most people due to the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, traffic at the border has decreased 50-60%. While some might view this as a good thing, it’s been financially devastating for border communities. These land bridges not only accept asylum-seekers, but they also accept Mexicans who cross the border to shop, dine, and spend money, all of which stimulate the economy. Many of these communities also depend on the fees collected from bridge traffic. To reinvigorate the economy, we need to reopen the border and allow opportunities to spend money.

This is a picture of a woman in a mall, carrying shopping bags
Immigrants are necessary for a strong economy.

Bottom line: Despite the uptick in migrants arriving at the border, immigrants are not flooding into the country, and the vast majority of immigrants are here legally.

  • Immigrants commit crimes and cause violence.

Unfortunately, this is one of the most prevalent and dangerous myths about immigrants, and there’s no evidence to back up this claim. At least four recent studies all show that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes compared to citizens. There’s been an increase in undocumented immigration since the 1990s. If immigrants were more violent, we would expect a rise in crime as well. That hasn’t happened, though. If anything, immigrants are less likely to commit crimes in general, including violent crimes like rape, murder, robbery, and aggravated assault. A separate study documented that U.S. citizens

  • are over twice as likely to be arrested for violent crimes

  • 2.5 times more likely to be arrested for drug-related crimes, and

  • over four times more likely to be arrested for violent offenses compared to undocumented immigrants.

Bottom line: Just because someone isn’t a citizen doesn’t mean that they’re more likely to commit crimes. If anything, U.S. citizens are far more likely to commit crimes.

  • Immigrants burden the economy because they take jobs and don’t pay taxes.

Although immigrants do take jobs, they often take the jobs that Americans don’t want. Without immigrants, these jobs would go unfilled. For example, undocumented workers tend to take undesirable, physically demanding jobs, such as gutting fish, meatpacking, and working on farm fields.

In addition, immigration helps to create new job opportunities. According to one study, immigrants account for roughly 25% of entrepreneurs and 25% of investors.

Citizens and immigrants alike are required to pay taxes. In 2017, immigrants, both documented and undocumented, paid $405.4 billion in taxes. Note that less-educated undocumented immigrants have higher rates of employment compared to citizens with comparable education levels. About half of all U.S.-born Americans with no high school diploma work, compared to 70% of immigrants with the same education level. The more people who work, the more taxes the government earns, regardless of the citizenship status of those workers. As a result, undocumented immigrants pay around $11.6 billion per year in taxes.

In addition, immigrants are less likely to be on welfare than the native-born population. To qualify for benefits, immigrants must be lawful permanent residents for at least five years. Only around 9 million are considered lawful permanent residents, but they still wouldn’t qualify because their incomes are too high. Even if they do qualify for benefits, many try to avoid doing so because of the stigma. Many strongly desire to work and provide for their families.

This is a picture of a Hispanic family sitting together on the couch.
Most immigrants want to work and provide for their families

Bottom Line: Even though immigrants do take jobs, they pay billions in taxes each year, and they create new job opportunities for citizens and immigrants alike. Immigrants are also more likely to work and less likely to accept benefits. Because of these trends, immigrants are less likely to burden the economy. If anything, they’re more likely to strengthen it.

  • Immigrants bring diseases.

This myth originated from then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, as well as Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga. Both claimed that immigrants crossing the border would bring illnesses into the United States, endangering citizens. In reality, the only outbreak was a Scabies outbreak back in 2014. The most common illnesses reported are minor issues, such as stomach aches, constipation, and diarrhea. Most of the time, illnesses like these resolve with bed rest, fluids, and maybe some over-the-counter medicine. In addition, many illnesses that are a problem in other countries aren’t a problem in the United States. For example, in certain parts of Mexico, illnesses like Malaria, Measles, Typhoid, and Tuberculosis are an issue. However, the likelihood of contracting some of these diseases, like Measles, is low if you’ve received the MMR vaccine. Other illnesses, such as Typhoid and Tuberculosis, are easily treated with bed rest, fluids, and antibiotics. In the U.S., we have health codes that prevent outbreaks of preventable diseases, and medical professionals have the necessary knowledge to treat them.

This is a picture of three people wearing Hazmat suits.
Experts can prevent large-scale outbreaks.

Even during the Covid-19 outbreak, immigrants were NOT the cause of the Covid-19 pandemic. Yes, travel made it easier for the virus to spread, but it was far from the only factor. To imply that immigrants (or travelers in general) are responsible oversimplifies the issue. On January 31st, 2021, then-president Donald Trump announced a travel ban from China. For some, this action makes sense because international travel can spread diseases, regardless of the travelers’ nationalities. They argue that if a person gets sick in one country, they’ll bring the illness back to their home country, where they’ll expose the people they know, which can get them sick. In practice, though, it’s too inefficient to restrict viruses or travel. They prompt people to seek alternate routes via a third country or lie about their symptoms. Travel bans also typically have exceptions for citizens, as the China travel ban did. There is often a surge of people traveling to the U.S. in the hopes of beating the restrictions. Too often, bans delay the inevitable, and they cause false confidence that everything is under control.

That was only the beginning of what went wrong. Many factors worsened the crisis, such as the amount of time we spent indoors, the high rate of imprisonment and use of long-term care facilities, a lack of public health funding, and limited assistance for nursing homes, hospitals, and other healthcare settings. Even once the pandemic started to be addressed, misinformation and patchwork reactions did little to help. People of color, including immigrants, were more likely to get sick and die for many reasons. Many have less access to health care, and many work in high-risk jobs. As of 2018, 64 million people (or 20% of the U.S. population) live in multigenerational households. This trend poses a risk to older family members because if younger members pick up the virus at work and bring it home, it can endanger them.

Bottom line: There’s no evidence to suggest that immigrants bring diseases. Even with the Covid-19 pandemic, immigrants weren’t the cause of the illness spreading. A lack of preparedness and existing inequalities meant that immigrants contracted the virus at high rates. While the pandemic has been trying for everyone, these inequalities mean that people of different races had different experiences during the pandemic.

  • All undocumented immigrants sneak across the U.S.-Mexico border.

This myth tends to oversimplify the problem. Some believe that because most undocumented immigrants sneak across the border, a wall will keep them out. However, border crossings are only one method. Most people enter the country legally with a visa, but they remain after it expires. In fact, in the fiscal year 2017, 670,000 people overstayed their visas. Authorities only caught 304,000 people trying to cross the border illegally.

Even if a wall existed to stop illegal immigration, it likely wouldn’t make a meaningful difference. At best, the evidence is mixed about whether walls are effective at preventing the movement of people. The more walls there are, the more likely migrants will travel through more dangerous paths through hot deserts. For example, before Arizona erected walls, the Tucson morgue saw an average of 18 migration deaths per year in the 1990s. However, after states erected walls near urban sites, migrants had to make a dangerous journey through the hot Arizona deserts. By the 2000s, the Tucson morgue saw almost 200 migration deaths per year. If the danger deterred people, we would see few illegal crossings.

From a practical standpoint, building a wall is not as easy as one might think. For example, the U.S.-Mexico border is nearly 2,000 miles long. To create a fence that long, the government would have to acquire land, purchase building materials, and adequately guard it. Even if the government agreed to pay such a large bill, there’s no guarantee that it would stop the flow of migrants. Smugglers can always climb over walls or dig under them.

As we addressed earlier, most undocumented immigrants are here because they overstayed their visas. A wall would be extremely costly, and it would do little to address the cause of illegal immigration.

Bottom line: Border crossings only account for a small percentage of undocumented immigrants. Most came legally on a visa, but they remained once the visas expired. Because of this, a border wall is an expensive, ineffective solution.

Immigrants have been the target of unfair, unfounded attacks in recent years. Upon examining the evidence, though, it becomes clear that these attacks do not affect reality.

If we hope to become multicultural, then we need to learn how to interact with people who are different from us. Doing so starts with discovering the facts instead of automatically agreeing with the popular rhetoric. By learning more about other people, we will no longer focus on what makes us different. We will instead focus on our shared similarities and our humanity. Focusing on this is the goal of being multicultural.


If you’re interested in learning more about becoming multicultural, consider taking a class with ReDefiners! We offer language classes in English, Spanish, Arabic, and Mandarin. Not only do we teach the languages, but we also help expand your multicultural skills. For more information, please visit our website or email us at

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