January 18, 2018

6 Dumb Myths Cracked Believes About Immigration

A follower of this site recently requested that we respond to the article “6 Dumb Myths People Constantly Believe About Immigration” by Chasen Shaw at Cracked. So, here is a response. If you would like a response made to an article or video feel free to let us know via twitter, facebook, or in the comments of this article.

1. All Republicans Don’t Hate Illegal Immigrants

Shaw argues that, contrary to common perception, there is actually widespread division within the GOP about how to handle immigrants. To establish that the GOP has a significant pro immigration wing he cites pro immigration actions/views of politicians such as Bush and Reagan and other GOP authority figures.

This argument totally misses the point of the common conception that Republicans do not like illegal immigrants. The narrative is not about politicians. We all know that no republican since Eisenhower has done anything useful to slow, let alone stop, the flow of illegal immigration. The relevant consideration is really what voters think, and Shaw fails to touch on this.

So, let’s look at what republicans actually think about immigration. To start off, in general republicans think that immigrants are a net negative on the nation and that immigration should be decreased.
Immigoration poll 1

Gallup (2014)

Pew (2015)

Republicans also support building a wall:

“Our most recent survey on this issue was in October 2011. At that time, 46% favored building a fence “along the entire border with Mexico,” while 47% were opposed. Republicans (62%) were far more likely than independents (44%) or Democrats (39%) to support the construction of a border fence.” – Pew (2015)

“The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 70% of Likely Republican Voters agree with the GOP presidential hopeful that the United States should build a wall along the Mexican border to help stop illegal immigration. Seventeen percent (17%) of GOP voters disagree, while 13% are undecided.” – Rasmussen 2015

That being said, sadly, roughly half of republicans do support granting amnesty to illegals already in the US:

Pew (2015)

immigration poll 2

Gallup (2015)

So, those are the facts. Do they fit what most people believe republicans think about immigration? I dunno. Certainly, on average, republicans are not anti-illegal immigration enough for my taste. But they aren’t really pro-immigration either.

2. Sanctuary Cities Suck

Shaw defends cities which refuse to prosecute illegal immigrants with two lines of argument. Fist, it would cost the cities like LA a ton of money to go after all the illegals they harbor. Secondly, being a “sanctuary city” is not dangerous because 1st generation immigrants have a lower crime rate than average Americans do and, moreover, arresting illegals makes them afraid to report crimes which makes cracking down on crime even harder to do.

To begin with, it is true that going after illegal immigrants might cost some money. But chances are many of them would leave once they knew that the police were looking for them. Further more, the cost of leaving illegal immigrants in the country is far greater. (More on that below).

Shaw is correct to say that illegal immigrants may be disincentivized from reporting crime to the police. However, this is only a significant problem if your city is full of crime that only illegal immigrants see. Of course, this is only possible if your city is full of illegal immigrants to begin with. The solution, then, is to simply not have a large number of illegal immigrants in your city.

His other claim about immigrants and crime is best left for the next “myth”.

3. Illegal Immigrants and Crime

Shaw offers his readers several lines of assurance that immigration will not cause an increase in problematic behavior like crime.

“In truth, not only do high levels of immigration bring crime rates down, but but undocumented immigrants commit crimes at a far lower rate than native-born Americans. “

For this claim Shaw cites a CNN article which makes the following points:

  • According to Pew, illegal immigrants are less than 4% of the US population
  • According to the DOJ, non citizens are 5% of the prison population
  • According to the Current Population Survey, foreign born men are 3.3% of the population and 1.6% of the prison population
  • According to Politifact, Trump made up the claim that illegal immigrants committed hundreds of thousands of crimes

The first thing to say is that none of these organizations have a good way of counting illegal immigrants. It all boils down to just asking people, including prisoners, if they are an illegal immigrant. They have an obvious incentive to lie if they are, so none of these numbers mean much. This is especially true for illegal immigrants in prison who may fear deportation if they tell the government that they are an illegal immigrant.

This is an extremely important fact to realize about the American dialog on immigrants: No one really knows how many illegal immigrants are in the U.S. or how many are in prison and, because of this, directly computing their crime rate is impossible.

Secondly, the DOJ data set that said that non-citizens were 5% of prisoners did not include data from California. If they had bothered to read the fine print they might have noticed this line under table 18:


Given that California has a huge non-citizen population, this is an pretty important exclusion.

As for politifact, as usual, they just didn’t know what they were talking about. They are not familiar with American crime stats and so could not find the data set Trump was referring to. I actually wrote a response to the Politifact article in question last year:

“Politifact also failed to cover the Homeland Security report that Trump based his claim on. They claimed they couldn’t find the report, yet, somehow, journalists at other sites have had no problem locating the document. In it, Homeland Security reports that there are currently 347,000 criminal immigrants in the united states.”

It’s important to realize that this is a huge under-estimate of how many criminal illegal immigrants there are in the US. As I explained in my article:

” For the last few years, via the Secure Communities Program, anytime someone is arrested their fingerprints are sent to the DHS which then checks to see if their fingerprints match the fingerprints of any known immigrants in their database. Obviously, this program will under-estimate the number of times that illegal immigrants are arrested because many illegal immigrants will not have their fingerprints registered with the DHS. But a large proportion of them will and this method is clearly better than just asking whether or not someone in jail is an immigrant.”

Of course, this whole conversation is absurd to begin with because “immigrants” are not a homogeneous group. Asking whether or not you want to let “immigrants” into your country makes about as much sense as asking whether or not you want to let “people” into your home. It depends on who the people are and people from different nations, cultures, and races, are not the same.

This topic becomes much simpler when we drop the political correctness and talk about Hispanics instead. DOJ documents clearly show that Hispanics have an abnormally high incarceration rate:

Incarceration 2000

Beck (2001)

Incarceration 2012

Carson and Golinelli (2013)

Incarceration 2013

Carson (2014)

Incarceration 2014

Carson (2015)

Shaw goes on:

“Also, neighborhoods with higher concentrations of immigrants tend to be safer, despite the fact that these same areas are some of the poorest.”

We are once again talking about “immigrants” instead of Hispanic immigrants, which is the group people are actually concerned about, making this entire point of questionable value. Moreover, didn’t Shaw just cite a CNN report that argued that immigrants are less likely than non immigrants to call the police when a crime happens? Could that not impact the “crime rate” in such areas?

The analysis he cites is also only on a single city, Chicago, and so can’t be said to hold much weight.

Shaw goes on to claim that “immigrants” get good grades. Again, no one cares about “immigrants”. Hispanic grades suck.

White Hispanic NAEP reading gap grade 4 1980-2009

White Hispanic NAEP reading grade 8 1992-2009

Some people may think that I am using this excuse excessively because we often think of Hispanics when we think of immigrants. The truth is that we think of Hispanics when we think of immigrants because Hispanics are the immigrants who are causing us problems. The fact of the matter is that most immigrants are not Hispanics.


Pew (2013)

This data explains Shaw’s next claim:

“The reality is that the crime rate among legal and illegal immigrants increases with each generation born in the United States.”

Followed by this chart:


I have a lot of problems with this chart. Firstly, I am not sure where the data comes from. The chart says that the data comes from a journal called “Justice Quarterly”, but the article the chart is from never mentions a study published in that journal.

It does talk at length about Bersani (2013) which did look at crime rates by generation and did use a question about criminal activity within the last 12 months, just as the chart displays. But this paper did not break down the data by age as the chart above did.

My best guess is that Pew found a study which they did not cite which utilized the same data set as Bersani and made a chart out of it. Obviously, this is not an intellectually transparent way to go about things and makes fact checking them impossible.

That being said, the chart itself raises a lot of questions. Firstly, if it is using the same data-set that the article itself talks about, then it used a self report measure of criminal activity within the last year. Secondly, the chart mostly displays data from teenagers. Why is that? The chart shows the pattern ending by around 22 years of age. What happens in adulthood?

Honestly, this paints a pretty funny picture. Researchers were approaching people who had immigrated to the US as a minor and asking them, 1st generation immigrant teenagers, whether or not they had committed a crime within the last year, and basically all of them said no. I hope I don’t need to point out the many ways in which such an approach is flawed.

Then there is the fact that, once again, we are treating “immigrants” as a homogeneous group. For the millionth time, “immigrants” are not all the same.

The fact of the matter is that, because of the low frequency of Blacks and high frequency of Asians among immigrants, if you estimated the crime rate of each ethnic group of immigrants from their crime rate in the US (based on FBI Uniform Crime Reports) and then predicted what the overall crime rate of immigrants would be solely based on their racial demographics, you would predict that they would have a lower crime rate, by about 13%, than the American population does.

However, this fact tells us nothing about the Hispanic rate of violent crime and therefore tells us nothing about how we should react to Hispanic immigration.

Happily, the same data set Pew seems to have based their claim off of has been analyzed along ethnic lines and using a better measure of criminal actiity. Here are the results:

Incarceration by net worth decile.PNG

Chart from Ehrenfreund (2016) data from Zaw and Darity (2016)

In short then, the data, including the data Pew cited, suggests that Hispanic crime is a perfectly rational thing to worry about.

4. The Cost of Illegal Immigrants

Shaw also attempts to calculate the cost, budget wise, of immigrants. First, he cites an analysis which estimated that illegal immigrants collectedly pay about 11 billion dollars in taxes and then he cites something pointing out that immigrants pay into social security but don’t get access to it.This is a joke of an attempt at calculating the net budget impact of immigrants.

In order to correctly estimate the budget impact of immigrants you to estimate the total amount in taxes they pay and then subtract the total value of government services they consume. Here is what such an analysis looks like:

Immigration Costs 2013 - Table 6

Immigration Costs 2013 - Table 6

Rector and Richwine (2013)

Thus, immigrants, legal and illegal, are a huge net drain on the budget.

Shaw also brings up the fact that “immigrants” add to the nation’s GDP. This is true, but he fails to mention a key fact about this addition to GDP. Consider the following from a leading Harvard economist who specializes in immigration:

“The presence of all immigrant workers (legal and illegal) in the labor market makes the U.S. economy (GDP) an estimated 11 percent larger ($1.6 trillion) each year. This “contribution” to the aggregate economy, however, does not measure the net benefit to the native-born population. Of the $1.6 trillion increase in GDP, 97.8 percent goes to the immigrants themselves in the form of wages and benefits.” – Borjas 2013

The remainder works out such that each native person’s real income is increased by about 140 bucks a year thanks to immigrants. But we’ve already seen that immigrants are a net negative, by thousands of dollars, with respect to the federal budget. Thus, on net they are clearly a net negative economically speaking.

5. Not All Immigrants are from Mexico

Shaw points out that not all immigrants are Mexican and that Asian immigration is on the rise. This is true. He also says that Hispanic immigration is at zero or even negative today. This is false. As I mentioned earlier, no one has a good way of counting immigrants, especially illegal ones. As such, confident statements about the number of illegals coming in from a specific country is not should not be taken seriously.

6. Build the Wall

Shaw ends his piece by saying that a wall is ineffective. He offers virtually no empirical evidence for this assertion, nor does he deal with obvious counter examples such as the Israeli-Palestine wall.

He does point out that many immigrants come into the national legally and overstay their Visas and that a wall would not fix this. That is true. We need other policies, such as mandatory E-verify, ending birthright citizenship, and banning immigrants from all sources of welfare, to deal with such people.

Shaw also points out that some immigrants will do extreme things to escape bad situations. That is also true and is why we need to make being an illegal immigrant in the US a really bad situation to be in. Such people should not have access to a job, or education, and they should live in constant fear of the very real threat of deportation.

This may sound harsh, but it is the general principle that is the foundation of law: you stop people from committing illegal acts by creating sufficiently severe punishments to deter them.

Granted, we will always have some illegal immigrants, just as all nations do. But the sooner we crack down on the current wave of illegal immigration the better.


Facebook Comments
  • Mark Martinson

    As far as crime goes, so John is born and lived in the US all his life. He’s 30. He has commiited one crime. Jose is 30 and came to the US 5 years ago and has committed one crime in the US. It may seem as if they have the same “crime rate,” but that’s oviously misleading.

    I suspect that this is what’s going on with crime rates. Even if the incarceration rates were lower for immigrants, they are still committing crime at a greater rate.

  • Mark Martinson

    Also we getting a lot of immigrants from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, which have violent crime rates several times higher than the USA. Even if half ot he immigrants are fleeing crime you are still getting people who committ crime at a high rate. So there is good reason to question all these claims.

    • blackacidlizzard

      “Even if half ot he immigrants are fleeing crime you are still getting people who committ crime at a high rate”

      Also, those are not mutually exclusive categories.

  • Mark Martinson

    As David Frum pointed out, incarceration rates are not a good way of looking at this. In the 70s and early 80s (when immigration was lower) states enacted lengthy sentences. So prisons are filled with native serving lengthy sentences. This skews the numbers. The correct way to look at it is what is the percentage of people currently being sentenced who are immigrants and the numbers are certainly higher than natives. And taking into account that the immigrants have been here for less time, then you get very high rates.

    • That does stew the numbers but, so far as I know, the DOJ does not release numbers on the % of those sentenced every year who are natives/foreigners. Of course, this relates to a larger problem which is that we have no good way of counting immigrants in any context and, therefore, lack good stats on immigrants.

  • Luideraad

    Considering the wall. The Hungarian border fence is an excellent example of how effective a wall/fence can be. The graph comes from this article at Breitbart http://www.breitbart.com/london/2015/10/29/hold-hungarian-border-fence-so-effective-illegal-immigrants-are-now-at-pre-migrant-crisis-levels/