It’s easy to fall into believing things that aren’t true. It is also easy to be misled by information that is incomplete or taken out of context. To be well informed we need to check our facts, understand how and why people may believe differently, and be aware that even with all the facts people weigh risks and consequences differently. Once we educate ourselves, we can educate others and take effective actions. Review Possible Actions, Resources and Additional Suggestions below.
- Know the facts and opinions on all sides
- Research immigrant issues (lots online, check bias)
- Share the facts you know
- Be a voice for learning, understanding & civil discourse
- Understand how facts are different than priorities (Example: The Heritage Foundation acknowledges facts about immigrants, based mostly on Pew Research and Census data, but feels that terrorism is still too much of a risk)
Myths about Immigrants
Below are some examples of myths about immigrants and some quick facts that disprove these myths. Most of these myths are disproved by LOTS of data, but we can’t go into all of that here. Under the table we link to many articles discussing these myths and many more, and sources that provide research-based facts disproving the myths (used for our quick facts).
Myth: Most immigrants are illegal
Quick Facts: ~13% of the US population is foreign born; ~3.5% of the US population is foreign born and undocumented
Myth: Immigrants come for handouts
Quick Facts: Almost all social welfare benefits (food stamps, Medicare/Medicaid, unemployment, etc.) require documentation of legal status. Legal immigrants with documentation and rights to these services actually use these benefits 25% less than native born.
Myth: Immigrants steal jobs
Quick Facts: Studies of regions where immigrant populations have increased do not show corresponding increases in unemployment. Studies also show that immigrants are not competing for same jobs; they often do jobs employers cannot find native born residents to do.
Myth: Immigrants bring crime
Quick Facts: Research consistently shows that immigrants generate less crime than native born populations. 1.6% of the foreign born population is incarcerated whereas 3.3% of the native born population is incarcerated.
Resources for Quick Facts
- Frequently Requested Statistics on Immigrants and Immigration in the United States (Migration Policy Institute)
- The U.S. Immigration Debate (Council on Foreign Relations)
- The Facts on Immigration Today: 2017 Edition (Center for American Progress)
- Undocumented Immigrants’ State and Local Tax Contributions (Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy)
- The Real Problem with Immigration… and the Real Solution (Heritage Foundation)
- The 14 Most Common Arguments Against Immigration and Why They’re Wrong (Cato Institute)
- Immigration (JustFacts)
Other Potentially Useful Articles
- Ten Myths About Immigration (Teaching Tolerance)
- The Criminalization of Immigration in the United States (American Immigration Council)
Respected and Reliable Data Sources
The US Census Bureau and the Pew Research Center are considered some of the best sources for data. Unfortunately, there are not always easy ways to find all the data related to immigration. Below we have linked to a few pages/reports, but you may want to do a general site search to see all that you can find.
Sometimes you can also find reports on these sites better by using Google or another search engine and typing “Pew immigrant data”. For example, the most comprehensive data on immigrants was published in May 2017 but the results on the Pew Topic pages are listed by most recent first so it would take a while to get down to that.
- Census– Best to start with Foreign Born page and look through the Related Sites (in About Us), Library, and News and Updates options on the left navigation.
- Pew Research Center Topics page – 3 immigrant related topics, 1 hard-to-find report:
- Immigration Attitudes
- Immigration Trends
- Facts on Immigrants, 2015, Key Findings about U.S. Immigrants
Checking Bias of Sources
If you find information on the web and you aren’t sure what the political bias is (left vs. right, progressive vs. conservative), you can check it at the following sites. You can also use these sites to find sources of alternative views to your own so you can learn how other people think.
- Media Bias / Fact Check – This source is good for identifying some of the least biased sources (simply select “Least Biased” from the top navigation on the home page). It is also good for identifying sources with different biases. Then you can go to different sites and see how they talk about immigrants and immigration.
- AllSides – You can find an alphabetical list of sources with easy-to-read bias ratings on their “Media Bias Ratings” page. You can search for immigrant related issues using their “Balanced Search” page and the results are grouped by types of information: Perspectives, Dictionary, Headline Roundup, Story of the Week and links to related news stories where the rating of the sources is listed along with the articles.
These are good sites to get additional perspectives on issues. Both are rated as “Least Biased” by Media Bias / Fact Check. AllSides rates FactCheck.org as “Center” and Politifact as “Left Center”. Factcheck.org and PolitiFact focus much more on verifying statements made by politicians or in news stories. Be sure to review the links and footnotes referenced in the articles, as these are usually the more reliable sources used to make their evaluation.
- Factcheck – They have an “Immigration Archive” page that groups all their articles related to immigration.
- PolitiFact – They have easy to read icons that show the degree of truth. They also track promises made by politicians. You can search their “Truth-o-Meter” by subject (Statements on Immigration).
New American Economy is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization fighting for smart federal, state, and local immigration policies that help grow our economy and create jobs for all Americans. They have an excellent interactive map of immigrant statistics for states and cities across the US along with lots of other tools.
When reading about statistics, keep in mind that the numbers may not be saying what you think they are saying. And some people count on you not knowing enough about statistics to question what they are saying. Here are some examples:
Percent of WHAT?: You might read that the undocumented/illegal immigrant population is 25%. That sounds huge. But, 25% of what? Not 25% of the total US population but 25% of the total foreign born population. Undocumented foreign born individuals account for just 3.5% of the total population, whereas all foreign born individuals (legal AND illegal) make up about 13% of the total US population. 3.5% is about one quarter (25%) of 13%. So technically the statement that the undocumented population is 25% is not wrong, but it is misleading because it is missing context.
Percentages vs. Numbers: You might see that there has been an increase in the number of crimes committed in a certain area. That might sound scary. But if the population in that area has also increased, then the actual number of crimes per person or per 1000 people may have stayed the same or even gone down.
Historical Context & Visualization: It is also important to look at changes over time. In recent years there have been a record number of immigrants to the United States. Viewing this data can easily look like a crisis:
But as a percentage of the total US population, the current immigration rates are still roughly the same as they’ve been for 170 years, with the exception of a dip below 10% for about 50 years (much less alarming):
Source: Migration Policy Institute using Census data
Comparing Data from Both Groups: You might read that there are over 650,000 immigrants in prison. That sounds like a lot. But that is only 1.6% of the total immigrant population. Even that might sound like a lot. But it is important to compare it to non-immigrants. 3.3% of the native born population are in prison. That’s about 9,240,000 – a heck of a lot more than 650,000. But percentage-wise it’s only about double.
Understanding Other People’s Perspectives
Understanding other people’s opinions and perspectives is critical to civil discourse. Yelling, “You’re stupid.” “No, you’re stupid.” at each other rarely helps. When we really make an effort to understand what is at the root of our disagreements, we have a much better chance of being able to find solutions.
When someone says something that you believe to be inaccurate, try asking questions instead of correcting them:
- Can you explain that in more detail so I can understand what you mean?
- Can you tell me the source of that information? The data I know are different.
- That doesn’t sound correct to me, can you help me understand what I might be missing?
Differences in opinion (or even about what the relevant facts are) often come down to differences in definitions and priorities. Try asking questions that get underneath what they are saying:
- How do you define immigrant?
- How do you define American?
- It seems like ___ is more of a priority to you than ___? Is that correct? Can you help me understand why? (e.g., Heritage Foundation says risk of terrorism is such a significant consequence that it is more important than helping refugees from war)
- Can you explain why you would rather accept ____ than ____?