America is a country of immigrants; yet today, the subject of immigration is quite controversial. The issue divides communities and politicians alike due to the many misconceptions that abound surrounding this matter.
The United States currently houses a larger population of undocumented migrants than at any point in its history. In the 1990s, more than 9 million legal immigrants were admitted to the U.S. In 2005, 11 million foreign-born individuals were living in the country in an undocumented status.
According to the American Immigration Lawyers Association, these migrants are typically alienated from the rest of American society, economically vulnerable, and fearful of contact with social institutions that provide health care and education.
“America’s immigration system is broken and needs to be reformed so that immigration is legal, safe, orderly and reflective of the needs of American families, businesses, and national security,” said Deborah Notkin, president of AILA.
While the large numbers of immigrants have led some to conclude that the country has lost control of its borders, officials at AILA say that the true causes and dynamics of immigration cannot be so easily compartmentalized.
Developing effective immigration policies requires overcoming the prevalent myths about immigration, she said.
One misperception, Notkin said, is that migration occurs because there is a lack of economic development in migrants’ home countries. In actuality, international migrants do not originate in the world’s poorest nations, but in those that are developing and growing dynamically. Mexico, for example, the largest single source of U.S. immigrants, is not a poor nation by global standards. It has an industrialized, $1 trillion economy and a per capita income of almost $9,000.
Another myth is that migrants are attracted to the United States by generous public benefits. In reality, immigrants are less likely than natives to use public services, and 5 percent or less report using food stamps or welfare.
There also is the misunderstanding that most immigrants intend to settle permanently in the United States, Notkin said.
Mexico-U.S migration has been historically circular, with 80 percent of Mexican immigrants reporting that they made no more than three trips to the United States and three-quarters staying less than two years.