Immigration Myths

Issues ››› Immigration Myths
  • A Guide To The Myths & Facts On Obama’s Executive Actions On Immigration

    ››› ››› JULIE ALDERMAN

    On April 18, the U.S. Supreme Court “is weighing the fate” of President Obama’s 2014 executive actions on immigration which “could shield roughly 4 million people from deportation” and grant them legal right to work. Right-wing media have spent years misinforming about the legality, and economic impact of the executive actions. Here are the facts.

  • Univision Recaps Trump Ally Kris Kobach's Career-Long Anti-Immigrant Crusade

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    During the April 13 edition of Univision's Noticiero Univisión Edición Nocturna, Galo Arellano outlined Republican Secretary of State of Kansas Kris Kobach's aggressive career-long efforts against undocumented immigrants.

    Kobach recently took credit for GOP front-runner Donald Trump's plan to force Mexico to fund a border wall by blocking the remittances that Mexican workers send to support their families. Univision highlighted this and recapped Kobach's record of harshly cracking down on the undocumented population. Arellano reported that "when it comes to anti-immigrant proposals, [Kobach] has always been available to pitch the strictest and most far-fetched measures," including advising 2012 GOP candidate Mitt Romney's platform of "self-deportations," helping draft Arizona's "papers-please" HB1070 legislation, and suing states for granting in-state tuition to undocumented students.

    Kobach also notably has ties with white nationalists and hate groups and has pushed to limit voting rights for minorities. His office recently published a voter guide in Spanish that included inaccurate information about voter registration not found in the English-language versions.

    From the April 13 edition of Univision's Noticiero Univisión Edición Nocturna:

    ILIA CALDERÓN (HOST):  One of the people most likely to put obstacles in the way of immigrants has been Kris Kobach. He says he's convinced that much of the blame for unemployment in the United States lies with immigrants arriving in the country. Today Galo Arellano brings us a recap of the things this man has done over the years attempting to shoot down the so-called "American dream" of millions of immigrants.

    GALO ARELLANO (REPORTER): The brain behind the construction of Donald Trump's border wall has a first and last name: Kris Kobach. But he doesn't only stand out for that. When it comes to anti-immigrant proposals, he has always been available to pitch the strictest and most far-fetched measures to, according to him, control the entry of undocumented immigrants to the United States. Univision first met Kobach in 2012, when he had been Secretary of State of Kansas for a year. Back then he authored the presidential initiative of self-deportation that Mitt Romney pushed, which in a few words, sought to block all types of access to jobs so undocumented immigrants would return voluntarily to their countries of origin due to a lack of opportunities. His plan, he explained back then, was to make it impossible for an immigrant to work with fake documents, and he said it was totally realistic that entire families with undocumented heads of household would self-deport, even though in many cases their children were born in the U.S. He's also behind anti-immigrant legislation in Alabama, and Arizona's HB1070 was similarly inspired by Kobach, who is gaining standing within the Republican Party and who currently advises Donald Trump. He's told media outlets that Trump has been receptive to the idea of blocking the $20 billion in remittances that Mexicans send every year to their families in other countries, as a way to pressure the Mexican government to fund the entire cost of building a border wall, estimated at $10 billion. 

    PAOLA CALVO (ACTIVIST): Closing the border with a wall is not the solution for the problem we're having. What we should do is really think of an immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship.

    ARELLANO: But in a letter endorsing the mogul, Kobach states that because "there are too many Americans who are out of work because of illegal immigration,”  “America needs Mr. Trump's aggressive approach to the problem of illegal immigration." Despite the criticism that his proposal has received, he says that if they capitalize on the enthusiasm raised by Trump in the electorate, they could see their dreams of a wall turn into a reality.

    ARELLANO: Well, Kobach is currently 50 years old. In his career he's sued states like Kansas, California, and Nebraska for implementing legislation that benefits undocumented immigrants. Back to you, Enrique.

    ENRIQUE ACEVEDO (HOST): Kobach, and Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the brains on the issue of immigration for Trump. Thanks, Galo Arellano. 

  • Media Should Take Great Care Not To Smear Brussels' Muslim Community

    Blog ››› ››› TYLER CHERRY

    As details emerge about the tragic terrorist attacks in Brussels, media should take great care to accurately report on the attacks without making sweeping generalizations about the Belgian Muslim community. Media in the past have blamed European Muslim communities as a whole for terrorist attacks and parroted debunked myths about purported "no-go zones" that are supposedly off limits to non-Muslims.

    On March 22, a series of explosions rocked Brussels' main international airport and part of its subway system, killing dozens of people and wounding hundreds more. Reuters reported that ISIS had claimed responsibility for the attacks. Media commented that "Tuesday's explosions at Brussels airport and on the subway network will turn the spotlight on the Belgian capital's Molenbeek suburb," where one of the November Paris terrorist attackers, Salah Abdelsalam, was captured just days before.

    In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, media noted that terrorist organizations, including ISIS and Sharia4Belgium, have "shifted [their] focus in recent years from promoting Islamic law in Belgium to recruiting for the war in Syria." Terrorist organizations have exploited Belgium's large Muslim population to draw "more jihadists to the conflicts in Syria and Iraq per capita" than have come from "any other Western European nation," according to CNN.

    But to cast Brussels as a fraught city mired in inescapable terrorism not only is a mischaracterization, but also it inevitably leads to guilt by association for the entire Muslim community in the area.

    Commentators should avoid conflating and blaming Molenbeek's Muslim community for the terrorist attack and its previous associations with terrorism. Media have previously reported that Molenbeek "is not a place that seems especially threatening," a key distinction after "the so-called Belgian connection in the Paris attacks ... revived the district's reputation as the 'jihadi capital of Europe.'" Los Angeles Times reporter Patrick J. McDonnell noted that the residents of Molenbeek "decry" the "jihadi capital" "characterization ... as more media hype than reality." The Atlantic similarly noted that Molenbeek "has a strong middle class, bustling commercial districts, and a gentrifying artist class," and that "journalists seem to [have] little trouble reporting" from the neighborhood, which looks "in many ways like a typical, somewhat run-down district."

    Bilal Benyaich, an author of two books on radicalism, extremism, and terrorism, told Al Jazeera it is a mistake to conflate the reality of Brussels as the "European capital of political Islam" with the "exaggerated" claims that it is the "capital of jihad." Similarly, The Guardian notes, "the concentration of violent militants in Molenbeek ... may not be about places, but people," underscoring how although ISIS and other terrorist organizations have attempted to exploit Brussels' Muslim population, terrorism and violence are not inherent to the community.

    Often when focus turns toward European-based terrorist attacks, media revive the debunked myth of so-called Muslim "no-go zones," or supposedly Muslim-only enclaves where media allege that outside police forces are prevented from entering and Sharia flourishes. As has been documented, no such "no-go zones" exist. Instead, as Richard Engel explained on MSNBC's Morning Joe, these areas are fraught with socioeconomic distress, and residents there "will tell you that it's about racism, that they're blocked from jobs, that they're blocked from government employment, that they don't get the same kind of social services."

    Purveyors of misinformation in the past have spun these socioeconomic problems to allege that state governments "no longer [have] full control over [their] territory" and thus that these neighborhoods are off-limits to law enforcement, as U.S. historian Daniel Pipes mistakenly asserted in 2006.

    In 2015, frequent Fox guest Steve Emerson -- part of the network's stable of extremists who lead its conversation about Islam -- seized on the "no-go zone" myth and provoked international outrage with the false claim that the city of Birmingham, England, is "totally Muslim" and a place "where non-Muslims just simply don't go." As the Emerson controversy raged on, another Fox News guest argued that governments should "put razor wire around" the mythical "no-go zones" and catalog the residents. Days later, Fox News host Jeanine Pirro apologized for Emerson's "incorrect" comments, telling viewers, "We deeply regret these errors and apologize to the people of Birmingham, our viewers and all who have been offended."

    Already, media are beginning to inch toward the false assertion that "no-go zones" are both the cause and consequence of extremism and the Brussels terrorist attacks. The conditions of this tragedy seem to be similar to previous incidents, where pundits blamed a specific Muslim community or Muslim-majority city for the attacks.

    Accordingly, media should take great care to undertake responsible, sensitive, and factually accurate reporting that avoids smearing Brussels' Muslim community and steers clear of the "no-go zone" myth.

    This post has been updated for clarity.

  • During GOP Debate, Telemundo's Maria Celeste Arrarás "Showed The Value Of Spanish-Language Media"

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LOPEZ

    Telemundo, the second largest Spanish-language network in the U.S., and Maria Celeste Arrarás -- co-anchor of the network's daily news show Noticiero Telemundo -- illustrated the value of Spanish-language media as they joined CNN to host the February 25 Republican presidential primary debate. Arrarás' understanding of the Latino community helped her press the candidates and provide clarity on the issues that Latinos care most about. And her participation shined a spotlight on both the value of diversity in newsrooms and the important role Latinos in the media play in empowering their communities to "engage at a higher level."

    The Republican National Committee (RNC) avoided further alienating the Hispanic community by reinstating the only RNC-sanctioned debate to air on a Spanish-language network, which had originally been canceled back in October.

    The Washington Post's Callum Borchers wrote that Telemundo "showed the value of Spanish-language media," in the debate, and Arrarás "made meaningful contributions" as a panelist, by pressing "all the candidates on the GOP's outreach to Latinos." He said she forced Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) to clarify his shifting immigration policies, including his pledge to end President Obama's executive action on immigration "on his first day in office," and confronted Trump with the reality of his consistently unfavorable polling numbers with Latinos. She also framed the border-wall issue in a manner that "might make some voters think about it in a new way."

    While many journalists have called out Rubio for his shifting positions on immigration, Arrarás' push to get specifics out of the candidate was particularly poignant for the Hispanic community, which has greatly benefited from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that Rubio says he would end.  

    While moderators in other GOP debates have used the slur "illegal immigrants" to refer to undocumented immigrants, the Telemundo debate was free of that language. Arrarás' presence created a more diverse panel, and her understanding of the Latino community may have deterred others from referring to immigrants offensively.

    Arrarás' performance at the debate illustrated experts' finding that diversity in the media has the benefits of reaching new audiences and improving the quality of coverage. It can also help combat problematic trends. Advancement Project co-director Judith Browne Dianis has explained that pundits, anchors, and newsrooms often contribute to criminalized media depictions of people of color, portraying them as inherently criminal, violent, adverse to authority, lacking innocence, and deserving of brutal treatment. A lack of newsroom diversity greatly affects the accuracy of media narratives. According to Dori J. Maynard, president of the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education "there are stories being missed due to a dearth of diverse perspectives ... not to mention critical nuances tied to culture and background, all of which ultimately make for better journalism."

    Yet Latinos -- who make up 17 percent of the population and whose voting power is expected to deeply impact the 2016 election -- like other people of color, are still underrepresented in the media. This underrepresentation leads not only to an absence of substantive coverage of the issues that matter the most to Latinos, but also to inaccurate portrayals that perpetuate harmful stereotypes. Prominent Latino leaders have remarked on the need to improve Latino visibility in the media. The National Council of La Raza's (NCLR) Janet Murguía has emphasized the importance of Hispanic media figures, saying they have "a real understanding of the Latino community" and are therefore uniquely positioned to make "sure that our community is more informed" and "can engage at a higher level."

  • Huffington Post Debunks Rubio's False Claim That Undocumented Immigrant Population Has Grown

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LOPEZ Versión en español

    The Huffington Post debunked Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio's unsubstantiated claim that there are more undocumented immigrants in the U.S. now than there were five years ago.

    During a January 31 appearance on NBC's Meet The Press, Rubio told host Chuck Todd that "we are worse off today than we were five years ago. We have more illegal immigrants here." As Huffington Post reporter Elise Foley pointed out on a February 1 article, Chuck Todd didn't press the candidate on the validity of his stats. Despite evidence that the undocumented immigrant population has been declining since 2008, Republican candidates have increasingly taken anti-immigrant stances and spouted alarmist anti-immigrant rhetoric that echoes the most extreme voices on right-wing media.

    Foley cited data from Pew Research Center to indicate that the undocumented "population has remained essentially stable for five years," directly contradicting Rubio's claim. She also pointed to a report from the Center for Migration Studies that demonstrates that in 2014, the undocumented population reached its lowest point since 2003 and that it has continued to decline since. Citing some of the same data, Politifact also rated Rubio's claim as false. As reported by Foley, Rubio has been using the same undocumented population estimates -- 11 million to 12 million -- for the past three years (emphasis added):

    Republican presidential hopeful and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio paints himself as the most informed and realistic candidate when it comes to immigration reform. He spent months helping draft a comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2013, and has spent even longer defending it.

    So it seems like he should be especially aware of how many undocumented immigrants are in the U.S. -- and the fact that the number has leveled off or even decreased in recent years.

    Rubio said the opposite Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."

    "We are worse off today than we were five years ago," he told host Chuck Todd. "We have more illegal immigrants here."

    Rubio wasn't pressed on where he got that information. HuffPost contacted two spokesmen for Rubio on Sunday and again Monday to see if the senator had a source for his claim that the number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. has risen in recent years, but neither of them replied.

    What he said doesn't square with most reputable studies. Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan think tank, estimated last year that there were 11.3 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. in 2014, and that the "population has remained essentially stable for five years." The number peaked in 2007 with 12.2 million undocumented immigrants, according to Pew estimates.

    Center for Migration Studies, another think tank, released a report based on Census figures this month estimating there were 10.9 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. as of 2014 -- the smallest the population has been since 2003. The number has been on the decline since 2008, according to the Center for Migration Studies.


    Rubio has been saying for years that there are 11 million to 12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. -- he used that figure in 2013, the year the Senate passed its comprehensive reform bill, and has cited it during the current campaign.

    Other Republicans have also said the undocumented population is larger than it is, although with more specifics. Front-runner Donald Trump said last year that there were more than 30 million people living in the U.S. without authorization -- a claim for which Politifact found no basis, other than statements from conservative columnist Ann Coulter.

  • WaPo Editorial Board Calls Out Republican's "Fact-Free Rhetoric" On Immigration

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The Washington Post editorial board called out Republican presidential candidates' anti-immigrant "rancor and outright nativism" that falsely gives "rise to the impression that illegal immigration has soared to unprecedented levels" when in reality recent studies show that illegal immigration is "now at its lowest level since 2003."

    Right-wing media have emboldened Republican presidential candidates' use of "alarmist" rhetoric and disparaging terms to describe immigrants, have pressured them into taking hardline anti-immigration policy stances, and defended the candidates who have been criticized for adopting extreme positions.

    In a January 24 editorial, The Washington Post editorial board wrote that "Republican rhetoric on immigration has not caught up" with data showing that the percentage of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. "is at its lowest point since the turn of the century." The board pointed to two recent reports from the Pew Research Center and the Center for Migration Studies (CMS) showing declining immigration rates, and called on Republicans to "grapple with that reality":

    THE ANTI-ILLEGAL immigrant rancor and outright nativism afoot in the Republican primary field give rise to the impression that illegal immigration has soared to unprecedented levels and that the border is no more than a line in the sand, scarcely monitored and easily crossed. The truth diverges wildly from that rhetoric, as a pair of recent studies demonstrate.

    Notwithstanding the demagoguery of Donald Trump and some of his GOP rivals, the number of illegal immigrants in this country, which has declined each year since 2008, is now at its lowest level since 2003, and the percentage of undocumented immigrants likewise is at its lowest point since the turn of the century.


    That Mr. Trump has leveraged fact-free rhetoric for political advantage is not news. Still, it is noteworthy that so much of the GOP-primary oxygen, at least until the terrorist attacks in Paris, was consumed by alarmist rhetoric about border security, when in fact the border is more tightly patrolled than ever, and apprehensions at the southwestern border, a rough measure of illegal crossings, have been cut by about two-thirds since Sept. 11, 2001.


    Republican rhetoric on immigration has not caught up to those numbers, nor to the reality that the U.S. economy, like other Western economies, cannot function without low-wage, low-skill labor, which Mexico has supplied. An estimate 7 million-plus undocumented immigrants, most of them Mexicans, are employed in this country. Mr. Trump's fantasies of mass deportation notwithstanding, they will not be replaced by native-born Americans. At some point, Republicans will need to grapple with that reality.

  • The Facts Undercut Conservative Media Efforts To Push GOP Toward Harsh Anti-Immigrant Policies

    ››› ››› ZACHARY PLEAT

    A report from the Center For Migration Studies (CMS) found that the undocumented immigrant population in the United States has dropped below 11 million for the first time since 2003. CMS officials specifically noted that they "took issue with the characterizations" of immigration by Republican candidates, many of whom contended that immigration is a growing problem. Those characterizations have in fact been encouraged by conservative media, which have pressured Republican presidential candidates into taking hardline anti-immigration policy stances and defended candidates that have been criticized for adopting extreme positions.

  • New Research Debunks Right-Wing Media Myth That Incoming Refugees Threaten American Workers

    WSJ Op-Ed Highlights Research On Positive Benefits Of Refugee Resettlement

    Blog ››› ››› ALEX MORASH

    Economists from the University of California, Davis published an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal debunking the popular right-wing media myth that an influx of low-skilled refugees would necessarily result in decreased wages and job opportunities for American workers.

    On January 18, University of California, Davis economist Giovanni Peri and doctoral candidate Vasil Yasenov published an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal discussing their recent study on the wage and employment disruption created when a large influx of Cuban refugees arrived in South Florida in 1980. Their work, published in December 2015 by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), updated prior research on the migration and confirmed that the sudden arrival of 125,000 Cuban refugees did not correlate with decreased wages or employment activity for American workers in the local community.

    Right-wing media have created many myths about immigration, but perhaps the most pervasive is the misleading claim that new immigrants take jobs away from American workers. Economists have debunked the claim many times, but it remains a prevalent talking point in many conservative outlets.

    Peri and Yasenov argued that an influx of new immigrants "stimulates productivity and growth in the economy" and pointed to the experience of Cuban refugees in the 1980s as a model for what to expect from Syrian refugee arrivals today. From The Wall Street Journal (emphasis added):

    A well-known episode took place after April 20, 1980, when Fidel Castro opened the port of Mariel, enabling anyone to freely leave the island. More than 125,000 Cubans fled to the U.S. until the Mariel boatlift, as it was called, ended in September. More than half of these refugees settled in Miami. Most were low-skill--which meant that the supply of workers without a high-school diploma in the city increased between 12% and 15%.

    Economist David Card analyzed how the wages and employment rate of native workers in Miami changed from 1979 (before the inflow) to 1981-82 (after the inflow). His influential study, published in 1990, compared Miami with Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles and Tampa-St. Petersburg, a control group of cities with similar demographic and labor-market characteristics during the 1970s.

    The results were striking: The 1979-1981 wage and employment changes in Miami were not much different than in the other cities. The evidence, he concluded, was that a sudden increase in the supply of low-skill workers had no significant negative effect on native laborers with similar schooling levels.


    Our results--released as National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper No. 21801 on Dec. 15--confirm Mr. Card's original study. There is no evidence that Miami's low-skill workers experienced wage or employment decline relative to those in our control group of cities in 1980, 1981 or 1982. We also analyzed different subgroups--males, females, Hispanics and non-Hispanics--and did not find any significant wage effect in Miami after 1979.

    This result suggests that the common belief that more immigrant workers depress native workers' wages or employment is not a good representation of what happens. Earlier research by one of us has shown that native workers do not suffer the negative impact of arriving immigrants because they take different jobs. Moreover, their arrival stimulates productivity and growth in the economy.

    Miami's experience after the Mariel boatlift suggests that an influx of refugees from Syria to the U.S. would have no significant economic impact on American workers.

  • O'Reilly Lets Trump Off The Hook For His Misleading TV Ad That Misrepresented US Southern Border

    Bill O'Reilly: "You Got To Be Careful ... The Media's After You"

    Blog ››› ››› BRENDAN KARET

    Fox host Bill O'Reilly gave GOP frontrunner Donald Trump a friendly platform to respond to criticism of his misleading campaign ad that misrepresented the U.S. southern border by using footage of Moroccan immigrants crossing into Spain.

    After Donald Trump's campaign released his first televised campaign ad, a Politifact analysis of the ad found that it misleads viewers by using footage of immigrants crossing the border between Morocco and Spain while a narrator claims that Trump will "stop illegal immigration by building a wall on our southern border." 

    On the January 4 edition of his Fox News show, Bill O'Reilly discussed the ad with Trump pointing out that the footage was misleading but dismissed the criticism, telling Trump that he must "be careful" because "the media's after [him]":

    BILL O'REILLY (HOST): Now, you just put out an ad that features the southern border, and you're saying that you're going to put up a wall and stop the madness. Now you're criticized because some of the video in the ad, which looks like it's from Mexico, is from Morocco. So, the press is all over you on that. How do you react?

    DONALD TRUMP: All it is, is a display of what it is going to look like, and what our country looks like. That was just video footage. It's just a display of what our country's going to look like. We're like a third world country. We're a dumping ground, so you can just take it anywhere you want, but it's really merely a display of what a dumping ground is going to look like. And that's what our country is becoming very rapidly. 

    O'REILLY: Alright, so you don't think the video was a little misleading, with the talk of the border fence? For Mexico, you use a Morocco video. You don't think that's misleading?

    TRUMP: No, I think it's irrelevant. All we want to do is what it's going to look like. They picked something. They could have picked something else. We could pick plenty of footage, that I could tell you Bill.

    O'REILLY: You should have probably put the Mexican footage in there though, because you got to be careful about -- you know, with the media's after you.