10 Myths Conservative Media Will Use Against Immigration Reform

As congressional leaders debate a framework for comprehensive immigration reform that will likely grant undocumented immigrants legal status, conservative media are engaged in promoting myths and falsehoods about what reform means for the country.

Is It True That 20 Million Undocumented Immigrants Would Gain Legal Status Under This Reform?

Why Can't We Just Deport Them All?

Wouldn't Legalizing Undocumented Immigrants Have A Negative Impact On The Economy?

So Immigrants Don't Take Jobs From Hard-Working Americans?

Won't Legalizing Immigrants Increase The “Welfare State”?

Do Undocumented Immigrants Pay Taxes?

Why Are There So Many Undocumented Immigrants? Are Immigration Laws Not Being Enforced?

If Illegal Border Crossings Are Such A Concern, Why Don't We Just Complete The Border Fence?

Wasn't Obama Responsible For Killing Immigration Reform In 2007?

In 1986, President Reagan Granted Amnesty To Millions Of Undocumented Immigrants. How Is This Proposal Different?

Is It True That 20 Million Undocumented Immigrants Would Gain Legal Status Under This Reform?

Fox News host Eric Bolling has claimed that as many as 20 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States would be legalized under the proposal. Is that true? [Fox News, Your World, 1/29/13]

About 11 Million Undocumented Immigrants Would Likely Be Affected

Pew Hispanic Center: Number Of Unauthorized Immigrants Stands At 11.1 Million. According to the Pew Research Center, there were 11.1 million unauthorized immigrants living in the United States in 2011, down from a peak of 12 million in 2007.

 [Pew Hispanic Center, 1/29/13]

Census Bureau Estimates The Number To Be 11.1 Million. Latest numbers from the Census Bureau put the number of undocumented immigrants in the United States at “an estimated 11.1 million,” which represented “a clear and sustained drop in illegal immigration, ending more than a decade of increases.” [CBS News, 12/6/12]

Undocumented Immigrants Make Up Significantly Less Than 10 Percent Of U.S. Population, Workforce

Pew Hispanic Center: Unauthorized Immigrants Make Up 3.7 Percent Of U.S. Population. According to data from the Pew Research Center, undocumented immigrants represent 28 percent of the U.S. foreign-born population but 3.7 percent of the overall U.S. population. [Pew Hispanic Center, 12/1/11]

Pew Hispanic Center: Unauthorized Immigrants Are 5.2 Percent Share Of U.S. Labor Force. Pew has estimated that there were about 8 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. workforce in March 2010, which includes those who are employed and unemployed. They represented 5.2 percent of the U.S. labor force at the time -- which Pew noted is similar to their proportion for the past half-decade. [Pew Hispanic Center, 2/1/11]

Why Can't We Just Deport Them All?

Bolling, who holds one of Fox News' most hardline attitudes toward immigrants, has repeatedly argued that it would be “worth every penny” to deport all undocumented immigrants. He has claimed that if the United States removes them all, 11 million jobs would become available. [Media Matters, 8/23/12; 12/5/11]

Most Adult Undocumented Immigrants Have Lived Here For At Least 10 Years

Pew: Nearly Two-Thirds Of Unauthorized Adult Immigrants Have Lived In The United States For At Least 10 Years. An analysis by the Pew Research Center that examined 2010 population data found that "[n]early two-thirds" of the 10.2 million unauthorized adult immigrants living in the United States have been in the country for at least 10 years and that nearly half are parents of minor children. More than 1 in 3 have lived in the country for 15 years or more:

[Pew Hispanic Center, 12/1/11]

Department Of Homeland Security: 86 Percent Of Undocumented Immigrants Came Before 2005. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has further noted that 55 percent of unauthorized immigrants living in the United States in 2011 entered between 1995 and 2004. DHS added: “Entrants since 2005 accounted for only 14 percent of the total.” [Department of Homeland Security, January 2011]

Reuters: Up To 2 Million Undocumented Immigrants Were Brought To The U.S. As Children. Reuters reported that there are “up to 2 million illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children and who remain in the country, according to immigration group estimates.” [Reuters, 6/16/12]

Deportations Would Break Up Families, Impact Children's Long-Term Development

Pew Research Center: Nearly Half Of Undocumented Immigrants Live In Families With Children Under 18. According to data from the Pew Research Center, “About 5 million unauthorized adult immigrants -- 49% -- are in families with minor children. Along with the approximately 1 million unauthorized immigrants who are children, an additional 4.5 million people younger than 18 were born in the U.S. to at least one unauthorized immigrant parent.” [Pew Hispanic Center, 12/1/11]

Pew Research Center: At Least 9 Million People In The U.S. Live in “Mixed-Status” Families. “Mixed-status” families are those that include at least one undocumented adult and at least one child who was born in the United States. According to Pew, at least 9 million people overall live in such families. [Pew Hispanic Center, 12/1/11]

Applied Research Center: “At Least 5,100 Children Whose Parents Are Detained Or Deported Are Currently In Foster Care.” An investigation by the Applied Research Center “found that at least 5,100 children whose parents are detained or deported are currently in foster care around the United States”:

In a yearlong investigation, the Applied Research Center, which publishes Colorlines.com, found that at least 5,100 children whose parents are detained or deported are currently in foster care around the United States. That number represents a conservative estimate of the total, based on extensive surveys of child welfare case workers and attorneys and analysis of national immigration and child welfare trends. Many of the kids may never see their parents again.

These children, many of whom should never have been separated from their parents in the first place, face often insurmountable obstacles to reunifying with their mothers and fathers. Though child welfare departments are required by federal law to reunify children with any parents who are able to provide for the basic safety of their children, detention makes this all but impossible. Then, once parents are deported, families are often separated for long periods. Ultimately, child welfare departments and juvenile courts too often move to terminate the parental rights of deportees and put children up for adoption, rather than attempt to unify the family as they would in other circumstances.

While anecdotal reports have circulated about children lingering in foster care because of a parent's detention or deportation, our investigation provides the first evidence that the problem occurs on a large scale. If these cases continue mounting at the same pace over the next five years, 15,000 children of detained and deported mothers and fathers will likely be separated from their parents and languish in U.S. foster homes. [Colorlines.com, 11/2/11]

Urban Institute Study: “Separations Pose Serious Risks To Children's Immediate Safety, Economic Security, Well-Being, And Longer-Term Development.” In a February 2010 study examining “the consequences of parental arrest, detention, and deportation on 190 children in 85 families,” the Urban Institute found that parent-child separations pose “serious risks to children's immediate safety, economic security, well-being, and longer-term development.” The study documented other negative effects, including housing instability, food hardship, and adverse behavioral changes in children. [Urban Institute, “Children in the Aftermath of Immigration Enforcement,” 2/2/10]

Full Deportation Would Hurt U.S. Economy

Center For Global Trade Analysis Study: Deportation Of Undocumented Workers Would “Cause A Considerable Loss To The US Economy In Terms Of Real GDP.” A 2009 study by the Center for Global Trade Analysis at Purdue University that examined the effects on the U.S. economy of three different scenarios -- full deportation, full legalization, and full legalization with increased border control -- found that mass deportation of undocumented Mexican workers would “cause a considerable loss to the US economy in terms of real GDP.” Economists Angel Aguiar and Terrie Walmsley wrote:

The deportation of all undocumented Mexican workers causes a loss in real GDP of 0.61 percent. Legalization on the other hand, has a positive effect on real GDP regardless of border control. Although the extent to which the border remains porous, causes larger gains in real GDP, 0.53 percent as opposed to 0.17 percent in the border control scenario. [Research in Agricultural & Applied Economics, July 2009]

Center For American Progress: Full Deportation Would Drain $2.5 Trillion From U.S. Economy Over 10 Years. In a report examining how full deportation would impact the U.S. economy, the Center for American Progress (CAP) found that a full “deportation approach would have the cumulative effect of draining $2.5 trillion over 10 years from the U.S. economy.” [Center for American Progress, March 2010]

Center For American Progress: Enforcement Costs In A Mass Deportation Strategy Would Total $285 Billion Over 5 Years. In the same report, CAP estimated that it would cost $200 billion (in 2008 dollars) to deport all undocumented immigrants in the United States. CAP further wrote:

That amount, however, does not include the annual recurring border and interior enforcement spending that will necessarily have to occur. It would cost taxpayers at least another $17 billion annually (in 2008 dollars) to maintain the status quo at the border and in the interior, or a total of nearly $85 billion over “five years. that means the total ”five-year immigration enforcement cost under a mass deportation strategy would be approximately $285 billion. [Center for American Progress, March 2010]

Americans Support Legalizing Undocumented Immigrants

CBS News: Americans Think Undocumented Immigrants Working In The United States Should Be Allowed To Stay. CBS News reported that “most Americans think illegal immigrants currently working in the United States should be allowed to stay either as guest workers or with the opportunity to become U.S. citizens.” According to polling data, 51 percent think undocumented immigrants should be able to apply for citizenship. [CBS News, 1/28/13]

Associated Press: “More Than 6 In 10 Americans” Favor Allowing Undocumented Immigrants To Eventually Become U.S. Citizens. An Associated Press poll about Americans' view of immigration reform found that “more than 6 in 10 Americans now favor allowing illegal immigrants to eventually become U.S. citizens, a major increase in support.” The poll also found that 55 percent of seniors and that 57 percent of Americans without a college degree support a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. It added that “59 percent of whites now favor a way for illegal immigrants to gain citizenship, up from 44 percent in August 2010, and 41 percent in September 2009.” [Associated Press, 1/22/13]

Associated Press: A Majority Of Republicans Support Path To Citizenship. The AP reported that a “majority in the GOP -- 53 percent -- now favor the change. That's up a striking 22 percentage points from 2010. Seventy-two percent of Democrats and 55 percent of independents like the idea, similar to 2010.” [Associated Press, 1/22/13]

Fox News Poll: 66 Percent Of Voters Favor Path To Citizenship. A Fox News poll found that 66 percent of voters “think there should be a path to citizenship, but only if the individual meets requirements such as paying back taxes, learning English and passing a background check.” According to the poll, 56 percent of Republicans supported allowing undocumented immigrants to gain citizenship. [Fox News, 1/28/13]

Wouldn't Legalizing Undocumented Immigrants Have A Negative Impact On The Economy?

Fox Business host Charles Payne has said that though some immigration is good, it can become “a drag on the economy” when we legalize those “who aren't necessarily working that don't have the job skills that generate tax revenue.” [Fox News, Your World, 1/28/13]

Economists Agree That Immigration Strengthens U.S. Economy

Immigration Expert: Passing Comprehensive Immigration Reform Would Add At Least $1.5 Trillion To The U.S. Economy Over 10 Years. In a 2012 report about the economic benefits of comprehensive immigration reform published by the Cato Institute, UCLA professor and immigration expert Raúl Hinojosa-Ojeda found that passing immigration reform “would raise wages, increase consumption, create jobs, and generate additional tax revenue.” He wrote:

The historical experience of legalization under the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act indicates that comprehensive immigration reform would raise wages, increase consumption, create jobs, and generate additional tax revenue. Even though IRCA was implemented during a period that included a recession and high unemployment (1990-91), it still helped raise wages and spurred increases in educational, home, and small business investments by newly legalized immigrants. Taking the experience of IRCA as a starting point, we estimate that comprehensive immigration reform would yield at least $1.5 trillion in added U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) over 10 years. [Cato Institute, Winter 2012]

Bush Administration Report Found That Immigration Adds $37 Billion To The U.S. Economy Annually. A report by the Bush-era White House Council of Economic Advisers found that immigrants increase gross domestic product “by roughly $37 billion each year because immigrants increase the size of the total labor force, complement the native-born workforce in terms of skills and education, and stimulate capital investment by adding workers to the labor pool.” [Immigration Policy Center, 6/12]

Hinojosa-Ojeda: “Higher Earning Power Of Newly Legalized Workers” Would “Generate $4.5 To $5.4 Billion In Additional Net Tax Revenue Nationally.” In his 2012 report, Hinojosa-Ojeda found that comprehensive immigration reform would “bring substantial economic gains even in the short run.” Hinojosa-Ojeda explained that the “higher earning power of newly legalized workers translates into an increase in net personal income of $30 billion to $36 billion, which would generate $4.5 to $5.4 billion in additional net tax revenue nationally, enough to support 750,000 to 900,000 new jobs.” [Cato Institute, Winter 2012]

Immigrants Increase U.S. Economic Growth

Immigration Policy Center: “Immigrant Entrepreneurs Add Billions Of Dollars And Millions Of Jobs To The U.S. Economy.” A fact sheet by the Immigration Policy Center said that 4.7 million people are employed by immigrant-owned small businesses and that 18 percent of all small business owners in the United States are immigrants (a figure disproportionate to their 13 percent share of the population). [Immigration Policy Center, 6/2012]

Wash. Post: Immigration “Increases Innovation.” In an article about the effect of immigration on the U.S. economy, Washington Post writer Dylan Matthews noted that numerous studies show that foreign nationals living in the United States have accounted for at least a quarter of start-ups, including the majority in Silicon Valley, and patent applications in this country. Matthews further reported that “an expansion of high-skilled visas passed in 1998 increased revenue at affected companies by 15 percent.” [The Washington Post, 1/29/13]

Bloomberg BusinessWeek: “By 2030, Nearly 70 Percent Of Latinos Who Came To The U.S. During The 1990s Are Expected To Own A Home.” In a column arguing that increased immigration is key to U.S. economic growth, Charles Kenny, a fellow at the Center for Global Development and the New America Foundation, noted a study showing that by “2030, nearly 70 percent of Latinos who came to the U.S. during the 1990s are expected to own a home.” Kenny added:

That's good news, the researchers point out, because the 78 million-strong baby-boom generation in the U.S. will be looking to downsize as their children leave home. Workers from Latin America were central to building the boomer housing stock, and they'll be central to ensure it is still worth something in 20 years. [Bloomberg BusinessWeek, 11/28/12]

Census: 65.4 Percent Of The Overall U.S. Population Are Homeowners. According to data from the U.S. Census bureau, 65.4 percent of the total U.S. population own their own homes. [U.S. Census Bureau, 1/29/13]

Pew Hispanic Center: More Than A Third Of Undocumented Immigrants Are Homeowners. Pew reported that “35% of all unauthorized immigrant households are homeowners” and that “45% of undocumented immigrants who have lived in the United States for a decade or more own their own homes.” [Pew Hispanic Center, 4/14/09]

Higher Immigration Generally Leads To Lower Unemployment, Boost In Wages

WSJ: Labor Economist “Found That Higher Levels Of Immigration Coincided With Lower Levels Of Unemployment.” The Wall Street Journal noted that labor economist Richard Vedder of Ohio University “looked at the relationship between immigration and U.S. unemployment throughout the 20th century and found that higher levels of immigration coincided with lower levels of unemployment.” [The Wall Street Journal, 6/18/12]

Brookings Institution: “On Average, Immigrants Raise The Overall Standard Of Living Of American Workers.” The Brookings Institution's Hamilton Project said in a 2010 report that the “most recent academic research suggests that, on average, immigrants raise the overall standard of living of American workers by boosting wages and lowering prices.” It added that while economists are divided on whether immigrants lower wages for certain groups of workers, immigrants “enhance the purchasing power of Americans by lowering prices of 'immigrant-intensive' services like child care, gardening, and cleaning services.” [Brookings Institution, The Hamilton Project, September 2010]

Study: Cities With Restrictive Immigration Laws Lower Local Employment By Nearly 20 Percent. In a study examining the economic effects of restrictive immigration laws, researchers at the Americas Society and the Council of the Americas determined that cities with restrictive immigration laws would reduce local employment by 0.18 percent. The AS/COA study further noted: “When compared to cities with non-restrictive ordinances, employment-related ones had a negative and statistically significant impact on cities' business environments.” [Americas Society and the Council of the Americas, 10/20/11]

Migration Policy Institute: U.S. Immigration From 1990 To 2006 “Caused A 2.86 Percent Real Wage Increase For The Average US Worker.” In a June 2010 Migration Policy Institute report, economist Giovanni Peri found that “total immigration to the United States over the period 1990-2006 ... caused a 2.86 percent real wage increase for the average US worker.” [Migration Policy Institute, June 2010]

Low-Skilled Immigration Has Negligible Impact On Native Workers' Wages

NBER: Immigrants Have A Small Negative Impact On Wages Of Native-Born Workers Without H.S. Degrees. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the “impact of recent immigrant inflows on the relative wages of U.S. natives is small” and immigration “accounts for just a small share -- about 5 percent -- of the rise in overall U.S. wage inequality between 1980 and 2000.” As The New York Times explained, immigrants “have had, at most, a small negative impact on the wages of Americans who compete with them most directly, those with a high school degree or less.” [NBER, accessed 1/30/13; The New York Times, 10/19/12]

Economists Argue That “There Is Hardly Any Evidence That Immigrant Workers Have A Negative Effect On The Wages Of Native Workers.” Economists Giovanni Peri and Francesco D'Amuri concluded in a 2010 paper that immigrants do not have a negative effect on the wages of native workers in the United States: “Despite popular belief, often based on anecdotes and bodged analysis, there is hardly any evidence that immigrant workers have a negative effect on the wages of native workers.” [VoxEU.org, 10/31/10]

Economic Policy Institute: “Our Analysis Finds Little Evidence That Immigration Negatively Impacts Native-Born Workers.” In an Economic Policy Institute study examining immigration's effect on wages using Current Population Survey data from 1994 to 2007, economist Heidi Shierholz found that there was little evidence to support the claim that immigration negatively impacts native-born workers. She found that in fact wages increased by at least $ 3.68 per week for workers overall and $1.58 for those with less than a high school education. The wages of male high school dropouts decreased .02 percent while those for female high school dropouts increased by 1.1 percent. [Economic Policy Institute, 2/4/10]

Wash. Post: “Consensus View” Among Economists Is That Even If Low-Skilled Immigration Has A Negative Effect On Wages, It Is “Negligible.” In a Washington Post article summarizing what economists know about immigration, Matthews reported that while some economists “argue that low-skilled immigration very clearly reduces wages and employment for low-skilled American workers,” the “consensus view among economists is that the effect, even if negative, is negligible.” [The Washington Post, 1/29/13]

So Immigrants Don't Take Jobs From Hard-Working Americans?

Fox & Friends Sunday co-host Juliet Huddy has claimed that native-born workers could potentially have jobs “taken away” by undocumented workers. [Fox News, Fox & Friends Sunday, 6/17/12, via Media Matters]

Immigrants and Native-Born Americans Do Not Generally Compete For The Same Jobs

Immigration Policy Center: "Immigrants And Native-Born Workers Are Usually In Different Job Markets, So They Don't Compete." According to a report by the Immigration Policy Center, “Immigrants and native-born workers are usually in different job markets, so they don't compete.” The top occupation for foreign-born workers in 2009 was construction and extraction, while the top job for native-born workers was office and administrative support. [Immigration Policy Center, January 2012]

Economists: “Immigrant Workers Do Not Compete Much With Natives.” After examining a host of studies that looked at how immigration and offshoring affected U.S. employment, economists Gianmarco Ottaviano, Giovanni Peri, and Greg Wright concluded that evidence gleaned from the United States between 2000 and 2007 “shows that immigrant and native workers are more likely to compete against offshoring than against each other.” They went on to write:

These empirical results together imply that immigrant workers do not compete much with natives, but rather compete for tasks that could be more easily performed by offshore workers. Since immigrants specialise in the most “manual-intensive” tasks, an increase in immigration is more likely to reduce the range of offshored tasks in an industry without affecting the employment level and type of tasks performed by natives. Offshore workers, on the other hand, specialise in tasks at an intermediate level of complexity and compete more directly with natives, thereby taking some of their jobs and pushing them toward more cognitive-intensive tasks. [VoxEU.org, 11/18/10]

Brookings Institution: “Immigrants And U.S.-Born Workers Generally Do Not Compete For The Same Jobs.” The Brookings Institution has also reported that “immigrants and U.S.-born workers generally do not compete for the same jobs; instead many immigrants complement the work of U.S. employees and increase their productivity.” [The Brookings Institution, September 2010]

San Francisco Fed Scholar: "There Is No Evidence That Immigrants Crowd Out U.S.-Born Workers In Either The Short Or Long Run." Examining the long-term effects of immigration on employment, Peri also found that “there is no evidence that immigrants crowd out U.S.-born workers in either the short or long run.” [Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, 8/30/10]

Won't Legalizing Immigrants Increase The “Welfare State”?

Fox News' Bill O'Reilly has claimed that immigration reform would mean more immigrants “on the welfare entitlement train,” and that before Congress passes immigration reform, “they have to deal with the welfare situation.” [Fox News, The O'Reilly Factor, 1/28/13]

Newly Legalized Immigrants Will Not Have Access To Social Benefits

KABC: Undocumented Immigrants Who Gain Legal Status Would “Not Receive Federal Benefits Like Welfare Or Medicaid.” ABC's Los Angeles affiliate, KABC, reported that undocumented immigrants who “gain legal status to live and work in the U.S.” would “not receive federal benefits like welfare or Medicaid.” [KABC-TV, 1/28/13]

Under Senate Framework, Current Benefit Restrictions For Non-Immigrants Will Remain In Place For Those Given Probationary Status. The bipartisan framework for immigration reform recently announced by a group of eight senators states: “Current restrictions preventing non-immigrants from accessing federal public benefits will also apply to lawful probationary immigrants.” [The Washington Post, accessed 1/28/13]

Majority Of Undocumented Immigrants Are H.S. Graduates, Work

Pew Hispanic Center: 94 Percent Of Male Undocumented Immigrants Are In The Labor Force. In an analysis of data from the March 2008 Current Population Survey, Pew estimated that male undocumented immigrants “are more likely to be in the labor force than are men who are legal immigrants or who were born in the U.S.” The Center wrote that among “men of working age, 94% of undocumented immigrants are in the labor force, compared with 85% of legal immigrant men and 83% of U.S.-born men.” [Pew Hispanic Center, 4/14/09]

Pew Hispanic Center: Majority of Female Undocumented Immigrants Are In the Labor Force. Pew has estimated that 58 percent of working-age women who are undocumented immigrants are in the labor force, according to the 2008 survey. [Pew Hispanic Center, 4/14/09]

Pew Hispanic Center: 52 Percent Of Adult Undocumented Immigrants Have A H.S. Degree Or More. Pew concluded from the 2008 survey that 52 percent of undocumented immigrants aged 25-64 (52 percent) have graduated from high school, attended or have graduated from college.

[Pew Hispanic Center, 4/14/09]

Pew Hispanic Center: 54 Percent Of Younger Undocumented Immigrants Have A H.S. Degree Or More. Pew further found that 54 percent of younger undocumented immigrants, those aged 18-24, have graduated from high school, attended or have graduated college.

[Pew Hispanic Center, 4/14/09]

Brookings: “Skilled Immigrants A Growing Force In The U.S. Economy.” A June 2011 study by the Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program found that skilled immigrants are “a growing force in the U.S. economy.” According to the study, the “share of working-age immigrants in the United States who have a bachelor's degree has risen considerably since 1980, and now exceeds the share without a high school diploma.” [Brookings Institution, 6/9/11, 6/9/11]

Do Undocumented Immigrants Pay Taxes?

Fox guest and radio host Mary Walter claimed that undocumented immigrants are “not paying taxes and enjoying all the benefits.” [Fox News, Happening Now1/30/13]

Immigrants Pay Individual Income, Sales, And Property Taxes

CBO: “Immigrants Pay Individual Income, Sales, And Property Taxes.” In a December 2007 report detailing the impact of undocumented immigrants on the budgets of local and state governments, the Congressional Budget Office found that "[a]ccording to available estimates," there were about “12 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States” at the time and “those immigrants pay individual income, sales, and property taxes.” CBO further reported that “the IRS estimates that about 6 million unauthorized immigrants file individual income tax returns each year. Other researchers estimate that between 50 percent and 75 percent of unauthorized immigrants pay federal, state, and local taxes.” [Congressional Budget Office, December 2007]

Immigration Policy Center: “At Least Half Of Unauthorized Immigrants Pay Income Taxes.” According to the Immigration Policy Center, undocumented immigrants, “like everyone else in the United States, pay sales taxes. They also pay property taxes -- even if they rent.  At least half of unauthorized immigrants pay income taxes.” [Immigration Policy Center, 4/18/11]

Even Anti-Immigrant Group Has Acknowledged That Undocumented Immigrants Pay Taxes. In a 2004 study, the anti-immigrant Center for Immigration Studies found that “contrary to the perceptions that illegal aliens don't pay payroll taxes, we estimate that more than half of illegals work 'on the books.' On average, illegal households pay more than $4,200 a year in all forms of federal taxes.”  [Center for Immigration Studies, August 2004]

NY Times' Brooks: “Over The Course Of Their Lives,” Undocumented Immigrants “Pay More In Taxes Than They Receive In Benefits.” New York Times columnist David Brooks noted that “over the course of their lives,” undocumented immigrants “pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits.” He added, “Furthermore, according to the Congressional Budget Office, giving the current illegals a path to citizenship would increase the taxes they pay by $48 billion and increase the cost of public services they use by $23 billion, thereby producing a surplus of $25 billion.” [The New York Times1/31/13]

Why Are There So Many Undocumented Immigrants? Are Immigration Laws Not Being Enforced?

Rush Limbaugh has accused the administration of not enforcing immigration law, saying, “We're not enforcing existing law in a number of areas, particularly immigration.” [RushLimbaugh.com, 1/15/13]

In Fact, Obama Administration Has Deported A Record Number Of Undocumented Immigrants

ICE Removed A “Record High” Number Of Individuals In 2012. In fiscal year 2012, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) “removed 409,849 individuals. Ninety-six percent of these removals fell into one of ICE's enforcement priorities, a record high.” [ICE.gov, accessed 1/30/13]

NPR: Obama Administration Has Increased Deportations Of Those Convicted Of A Crime. As NPR reported, the Obama administration has prioritized the deportation of undocumented immigrants who have been convicted of a crime, with priority cases including “felons, repeat violators of immigration laws, people who have recently crossed U.S. borders illegally and those who pose a national security threat.” According to the report, roughly “55 percent, or more than 225,000 people, deported in the past year were convicted of crimes such as drug offenses and driving under the influence.”

[NPR, 12/24/12; America's Voice, October 2010]

Mother Jones: Obama Administration Removed More Than 1 Million Undocumented Immigrants In First Term. Mother Jones reported that “the Obama administration has been aggressive in pursuing deportations of unauthorized immigrants, removing more than a million since taking office.” The report included a graph comparing the number of deportations under President George W. Bush to the number under President Obama:

[Mother Jones, 7/6/12]

Migration Policy Institute: The U.S. Spends More On Immigration Enforcement Than On All Other Agencies Combined. According to a recent report from the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), in 2012, the U.S. spent nearly $18 billion on immigration enforcement. That spending funded ICE, Customs & Border Protection (CBP), and a program called US-Visit that helps states and localities identify undocumented immigrants. According to MPI, “this amount exceeds by approximately 24 percent total spending for the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Secret Service, US Marshals Service, and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), which stood at $14.4 billion in FY 2012.” The report included the following graph:

[Migration Policy Institute, January 2013]

AILA: “Operational Control” Sets “An Unrealistic  Expectation That The Border Can Be 100 Percent Sealed.” In a report showing that the border security benchmarks set by previous immigration enforcement proposals have been met or exceeded, the American Immigration Lawyers Association argued that “operational control” of the border, as defined by the Secure Fence Act of 2006, “sets an unrealistic expectation that the border can be 100 percent sealed.” The report continued:

The GAO, in its testimony before Congress, noted that "[r]esources that would be needed to absolutely prevent every single incursion would be something probably out of reasonable consideration." As of February 2011, the GAO reported that the southwest border is at 44 percent operational control, with nearly two-thirds of the remaining 56 percent at the “monitored” level, and the rest at “low-level monitored.”

Achieving absolute border control, whereby no single individual crosses into a state without that state's authorization, is impossible. Commentators have noted, “the only nations that have come close to such control were totalitarian, with leaders who had no qualms about imposing border control with shoot-to-kill orders.” [American Immigration Lawyers Association, 1/30/13]

Experts: Rigid Limits On Legal Entry Fuel Illegal Immigration

Cato Institute Fellow Stuart Anderson: “Few Legal Avenues Exist For Lesser-Skilled Workers To Enter America, Which Is A Prime Reason For Illegal Immigration.” Stuart Anderson, Cato Institute adjunct fellow, wrote that “perhaps the most common myth” surrounding the U.S. immigration system “is that it's easy to immigrate to America.” Anderson wrote that “it is particularly difficult to obtain a legal visa for lower-skilled jobs and that ”few legal avenues exist for lesser-skilled workers to enter America, which is a prime reason for illegal immigration." [Cato Journal, Winter 2012]

Immigration Policy Center: “The Legal Immigration System Is Inadequate To Meet The Needs Of The U.S. In The 21st Century.” In a March 2010 report, the Immigration Policy Center reported that the “legal immigration system is inadequate to meet the needs of the U.S. in the 21st century,” and that "[i]nsufficient numbers of visas are made available to bring in either high-skilled or less-skilled workers at the levels needed to meet the changing needs of the U.S. economy and labor market." [Immigration Policy Center, March 2010]

National Immigration Forum: “There Is No Real Line For Unskilled Workers.” A column in the Miami Herald has reported that, according to the National Immigration Forum, "[t]he U.S. labor market demands up to 500,000 low-skilled workers a year, while the current U.S. immigration system allows for only 5,000 permanent visas for that category." The column added:

[T]here would be nothing wrong with demanding that immigrants come to the United States legally if we allowed them to do so. But we don't -- they are coming through the back door to take jobs we offer them, because we don't allow them in through the front door. Legal immigration quotas were set more than 20 years ago, when the U.S. demand for unskilled and highly skilled workers was much smaller than today's. [The Miami Herald, 4/29/10]

Unless Immigrants Have “Extraordinary Ability,” They May Wait Decades To Immigrate Legally

Huntsville Times: Entering The United States Legally “Can Take Decades And May Be Near Impossible” For Most People. A Huntsville Times article noted that in 2010, “1.38 million Mexican citizens were waiting in line for a United States work visa or an immigration visa through a family member. But there were only 26,000 visas made available for Mexico last year.” While every country has a visa, wrote reporter Brian Lawson, Mexico has “by far the longest waiting list,” and that “even for those with family here, it can take decades and may be near impossible to secure the paperwork to enter the United States legally.” [The Huntsville Times, 7/21/11]

Wash. Post: Wait Times For Family-Based Visas Can Be As Long As 24 Years. The Washington Post reported that for people who want to immigrate to the United States but don't have advanced job skills, it can take decades for an application to be approved. The Post wrote: “As of November, there were 4.3 million people on the wait list for family-based visas and 113,058 waiting for employment-based visas.” [The Washington Post, 1/31/13]

If Illegal Border Crossings Are Such A Concern, Why Don't We Just Complete The Border Fence?

On The O'Reilly Factor, Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer claimed that border “fences have worked for 5,000 years and they work everywhere.” [Fox News, The O'Reilly Factor, 1/29/13 via Nexis]

A Border Fence Is Not An Effective Solution

CBP Commissioner: A Fence Along The Entire U.S.-Mexico Border Is “One Of The Dumbest Ideas.” Former U.S. Customs and Border Protection commissioner Ralph Basham said it is against common sense to build a border fence in an attempt to control illegal immigration, arguing that it is “one of the dumbest ideas” he heard when he was commissioner. [U.S. News & World Report, 10/25/11]

AZ Border Sheriff: The Border Fence Is Of “Little Or No Value.” Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever told MSNBC in 2011 that “I think [the fence] is well intentioned, but you can build all the fence you want to build and unless it's the right kind of fence and unless you have the manpower to watch it, it's of very little or no value. The federal government has built a lot of fence and most of it has been inadequate in terms of actually stopping people from crossing.” [MSNBC.com, 7/18/11]

President Reagan: The U.S.-Mexico Border Should Be “Something Other Than The Location For A Fence.” Referring to a meeting he hoped to have with President Jose Lopez Portillo of Mexico in 1979, Reagan reportedly wrote in his private diaries that he wanted to discuss how the United States and Mexico could make the border “something other than the location for a fence.” [NPR, 7/4/10]

U.S. Has Operational Control Of The Border

CRS: “Effective” Operational Control Defined As “The Ability To Detect, Respond, And Interdict Illegal Activity At The Border Or After Entry Into The” U.S. In a January 2012 report, the Congressional Research Service explained that the Department of Homeland Security has defined “effective” operational control as “the ability to detect, respond, and interdict illegal activity at the border or after entry into the United States.” [Congressional Research Service, 1/6/12]

Wash. Post: Government Had 57 Percent Of Border Under “Effective Control.” The Washington Post's Wonkblog reported that under the DHS' definition of “effective” operational control, “the government had 57 percent of the southern border under 'effective control,' up from 31 percent in 2007, due to the new border security measures that were implemented since then.” [Wonkblog, The Washington Post, 1/29/13]

Illegal Border Crossings Have Decreased Sharply In Recent Years. In March 2012, The New York Times reported that the number of illegal border crossings has declined sharply in recent years. The Times wrote that the decrease in illegal crossings was “down to about 340,000 migrants apprehended in 2011 from a peak of 1.1 million in 2005.” [The New York Times, 3/10/12]

Many Undocumented Immigrants Enter Country Legally But Overstay Visa

Pew Hispanic Center: Nearly Half Of All Undocumented Immigrants Came Here Legally. According to 2006 research from the Pew Hispanic Center, “Nearly half of all the unauthorized migrants now living in the United States entered the country legally through a port of entry such as an airport or a border crossing point where they were subject to inspection by immigration officials.” Pew reported:

As much as 45% of the total unauthorized migrant population entered the country with visas that allowed them to visit or reside in the U.S. for a limited amount of time. Known as “overstayers,” these migrants became part of the unauthorized population when they remained in the country after their visas had expired.


The Pew Hispanic Center has previously estimated that there are between 11.5 and 12 million unauthorized migrants in 2006. The calculations reported in this fact sheet suggest that roughly 4.5 to 6 million or 40 to 50% of the total entered the country legally through ports of entry. Of them, some 4 to 5.5 million entered with nonimmigrant visas, mostly as tourists or business visitors, and another 250,000 to 500,000 entered with Border Crossing Cards. [Pew Hispanic Center, 5/22/06]

PolitiFact: GAO Has Estimated The Overstay Population To Hover Between 20 And 60 Percent. In a fact-check debunking the claim that most undocumented immigrants came here legally and overstayed their visa, PolitiFact highlighted a 2004 report by the Government Accountability Office that estimated the overstay population to be between 27 and 57 percent, according to different data sources. PolitiFact added that “data on overstayers has been considered unreliable, in part because of the incomplete collection of those immigration forms when foreign visitors leave the country.” [PolitiFact, 9/23/12]

Wasn't Obama Responsible For Killing Immigration Reform In 2007?

Fox & friends co-host Steve Doocy claimed that President Obama “effectively killed” comprehensive immigration reform in 2007 when he was a U.S. senator. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 1/29/13]

Obama Voted In Favor Of 2007 Immigration Bill

Wash. Post: 2007 Immigration Bill Included Similar Legalization And Enforcement Conditions, Plus A Guest Worker Program. A comprehensive immigration reform agreement introduced in the Senate in 2007 that was supported by President Bush would have granted temporary legal status to undocumented immigrants only after “implementation of tough new border controls.” The bill would also have toughened requirements for family-based immigration:

The Bush administration and a bipartisan group of senators reached agreement yesterday on a sprawling overhaul of the nation's immigration laws that would bring an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants out of society's shadows while stiffening border protections and cracking down on employers of undocumented workers.


The Senate deal would grant temporary legal status to virtually all illegal immigrants in the country, while allowing them to apply for residence visas and eventual citizenship. A temporary-worker program would allow as many as 400,000 migrants into the country each year, but they would have to leave after two years. And the current visa system, which stresses family ties, would be augmented by a complex point system that would favor skilled, educated workers. Most of those changes would take effect only after the implementation of tough new border controls and a crackdown on the employment of undocumented workers. [The Washington Post, 5/17/07]

PolitiFact: “Many Immigration Advocates Feared” Guest Worker Program Would Lead To Abuse Of Workers. PolitiFact explained how the guest worker provision of the 2007 immigration reform bill would have worked, and reported the concerns of possible abuse in the program:

The guest worker program proposed in the 2007 immigration bill was part of the negotiated “grand bargain” that sought to get bipartisan support for the bill. The program would have allowed temporary visas for several hundred thousand immigrants to fill unskilled jobs. The visas could be renewed twice, so long as the guest worker returned to his home country for at least a year between visits. And to return, the worker would need sponsorship from an employer.

Many immigration advocates feared it would create an environment where employers could abuse guest workers, because they could control whether that guest worker could return.


A May 29, 2007, editorial in the New York Times described the guest worker provision in the bill as “an absurd employment hokey-pokey -- you put your two years in, then one year out, then repeat that twice and go home forever. It would be massive indentured servitude -- colonial times all over again, but without any hope of citizenship for those taking our most difficult and despised jobs.” [PolitiFact, 10/8/10]

Most Senate Republicans Voted Against 2007 Immigration Reform Bill, While Obama Voted For It. Reuters has reported that the 2007 immigration reform bill “exposed a deep lack of support among Bush's own Republicans” and that Bush “was unable to overcome fierce opposition from fellow Republicans who said it was an amnesty that rewarded” undocumented immigrants. Reuters further reported that most Republican senators voted against the final version of the bill:

The legislation failed to garner even a simple majority.

Only 33 Democrats, 12 Republicans and one independent voted to advance the bill, while 15 Democrats joined 37 Republicans and one independent to block it.

Five of the six senators running for president voted in favor of the overhaul: Republican John McCain and Democrats Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Christopher Dodd and Joe Biden. [Reuters, 6/29/07]

Conservatives Worked To Defeat 2007 Immigration Reform Bill. The New York Times reported that Senate Republicans “abandoned [President Bush] in droves” when he worked to secure their support to vote to end debate on the immigration reform bill and bring it up for a final vote. The Times reported that only 12 of 49 Republican senators voted to move the bill forward, and that conservative media figures were instrumental in defeating it:

Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, a leading opponent of the bill, said that talk radio was “a big factor” in derailing the immigration bill.

Supporters of the bill wanted to pass it quickly, “before Rush Limbaugh could tell the American people what was in it,” Mr. Sessions said. [The New York Times, 6/28/07]

In 1986, President Reagan Granted Amnesty To Millions Of Undocumented Immigrants. How Is This Proposal Different?

Right-wing media figures like Fox Business host Lou Dobbs and Manhattan Institute fellow Heather Mac Donald have referred to immigration reform as “de facto amnesty” and “outright amnesty.” [Fox Business, Lou Dobbs Tonight, 1/28/13]

Reagan Believed In Amnesty, Signed 1986 Reform To Legalize Nearly 3 Million Immigrants

NPR: Legislation Signed Into Law By Reagan “Granted Amnesty To Nearly 3 Million Illegal Immigrants.” According to NPR, legislation signed into law by Reagan in 1986 “made any immigrant who'd entered the country before 1982 eligible for amnesty” and “granted amnesty to nearly 3 million illegal immigrants.” [NPR, 7/4/10]

Reagan In 1984: “I Believe In The Idea Of Amnesty.” NPR noted that in a televised debate against Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale in 1984, Reagan said, “I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and lived here, even though sometime back they may have entered illegally.” From NPR:

Reagan “knew that it was not right for people to be abused,” [former Wyoming Sen. Alan K.] Simpson says. “Anybody who's here illegally is going to be abused in some way, either financially [or] physically. They have no rights.”

Peter Robinson, a former Reagan speechwriter, agrees. “It was in Ronald Reagan's bones -- it was part of his understanding of America -- that the country was fundamentally open to those who wanted to join us here.”

Reagan said as much himself in a televised debate with Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale in 1984.

“I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and lived here, even though sometime back they may have entered illegally,” he said. [NPR, 7/4/10]

Reagan In 1986: “I Am Pleased To Sign The Bill Into Law.” In his November 6, 1986, speech on signing Immigration Reform and Control Act into law, Reagan stated that the law “preserves and enhances the Nation's heritage of legal immigration,” and added: “I am pleased to sign the bill into law.” He continued:

We have consistently supported a legalization program which is both generous to the alien and fair to the countless thousands of people throughout the world who seek legally to come to America. The legalization provisions in this act will go far to improve the lives of a class of individuals who now must hide in the shadows, without access to many of the benefits of a free and open society. Very soon many of these men and women will be able to step into the sunlight and, ultimately, if they choose, they may become Americans.


Distance has not discouraged illegal immigration to the United States from all around the globe. The problem of illegal immigration should not, therefore, be seen as a problem between the United States and its neighbors. Our objective is only to establish a reasonable, fair, orderly, and secure system of immigration into this country and not to discriminate in any way against particular nations or people. [Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, accessed 1/31/13]

Government Failed To Enforce 1986 Measures Intended To Curb Illegal Immigration

NY Times: 1986 Law “May Have Cut The Flow Of [Undocumented Immigrants] Less Than Expected And May Have Actually Encouraged Unlawful Entry In Several Ways.” In a 1989 report on the 1986 law, The New York Times reported that the law “may have cut the flow of [undocumented immigrants] less than expected and may have actually encouraged unlawful entry in several ways.” The Times added:

Recent studies show that many thousands of people crossed the border surreptitiously to take advantage of the program, some of them with falsified documents and personal histories. The mass of newly legalized immigrants is also acting as a magnet for illegal aliens who want to come to the United States to join friends and relatives. [The New York Times, 6/18/89]

Wash. Post: “Law Was Supposed To Put A Stop To Illegal Immigration Into The United States Once And For All. Instead, The Exact Opposite Happened.” The Washington Post's Wonkblog noted that instead of stopping illegal immigration into the U.S., the 1986 law did “the exact opposite.” Wonkblog explained:

Part of that was due to flimsy enforcement measures. But a major conceptual flaw in the bill, says Doris Meissner, was that the authors of the bill simply misjudged the high demand for immigrant labor in the United States.

“Congress didn't foresee at the time that employers would want more immigrants in the years ahead,” Meissner says. As a result, the law never set up a good process to provide as many legal immigrants as the labor markets would demand in the years ahead.

That meant that after the 1986 reform passed, there was a bottleneck for legal immigration and weak rules against illicit hiring. Given the still-high demand for foreign labor, the end result was, predictably, a boom in illegal immigration. [Wonkblog, The Washington Post, 1/30/13]

The Current Proposal Reportedly Ties Legalization To Enforcement

Sen. John McCain: Immigration Overhaul Would Not Repeat “The Mistakes Of 1986.” In a report on the bipartisan framework for immigration reform recently announced by a group of eight senators states, The Washington Post reported: “Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) vowed that the overhaul would not repeat 'the mistakes of 1986,' when, he said, an amnesty program legalized millions of illegal immigrants but created conditions for the illegal entry of many millions more.” [The Washington Post, 1/28/13]

Wash. Post: Senate Proposal Allows Immigrants To Pursue Citizenship “Only After New Measures Are In Place To Prevent A Future Influx Of Illegal Immigrants.” The Washington Post reported that the framework proposed by the Senate for immigration reform would allow undocumented immigrants to “pursue full citizenship -- giving them the right to vote and access to government benefits -- only after new measures are in place to prevent a future influx of illegal immigrants” and explained these measures “would include additional border security, a new program to help employers verify the legal status of their employees and more-stringent checks to prevent immigrants from overstaying visas.” [The Washington Post, 1/28/13]

ABC News: Current Reform Proposal Establishes Path To Citizenship That Includes A Fine And Payment Of Back Taxes. ABC News reported that the current immigration reform proposes establishes a path to citizenship that “includes a fine, payment of back taxes, learning English and civics, a criminal background check and proof of employment.” ABC quoted Human Rights Watch immigration expert Antonio Ginatta as explaining that the proposal is not amnesty because “there is no quick path or path without penalty.” [ABC News, 1/29/13]