by Ken Shel
A summary of David Cole's essay, “Five Myths about Immigration”
| David Cole, a Georgetown University professor asserts in his essay, “Five Myths about Immigration,” (The Nation, October 17, 1994) that five of the most commonly held and disseminated beliefs about immigration have no basis in fact. He writes that the “Know Nothings” of the mid-nineteenth century blamed every problem in American society on immigrants. The strongest anti-German, anti-Irish, and anti-Catholic hysteria centered in New York and Massachusetts, where most of the immigrants arrived into the country.
Fortunately, the Know-Nothing movement died within fifteen years, but anti-immigrant fever is revived whenever the American public feels in need of a scapegoat for their social ills. The German and Irish immigrants--who were the focus of the Know-Nothings--have become “us”; and “they” are now the new wave of immigrants, this time from Latin America and Haiti.
The Five myths that fuel the current distortion regarding immigration:
America is being overrun with immigrants. Cole argues that we are a nation of immigrants, and, in a sense, have thus always been overrun with immigrants. He offers statistics to demonstrate that first-generation immigrants constitute a lower percentage of the population now than during the German-Irish wave of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Further statistics and assertions indicate that undocumented immigrants make up a low percentage of the total alien population, and of the total American population.
Immigrants take jobs from U.S. citizens. He dispels this myth with a reliance on a 1994 ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project report that states that immigrants create more jobs than they fill.
Immigrants are a drain on society’s resources. Most studies have found that immigrants actually benefit the economy. Cole suggests that studies purporting to prove the truth of the third myth focus on taxes and services at the local level and fail when applied to the national level. The short-term costs of immigrants is offset and exceeded by the long-term benefits. Calls to deny public services to illegal immigrants are useless, because those immigrants already have no rights to services beyond basic education and health and safety services.
Aliens refuse to assimilate, and are depriving us of our cultural and political unity. This accusation was made to exclude Chinese immigrants, and similar claims have been made about almost all immigrant groups.
The anti-assimilation “myth” in untrue in most instances, Cole says.
Noncitizen immigrants are not entitled to constitutional rights. The Constitution’s Bill of Rights extends protection to everyone, with the exception that only citizens can run vote and run for public office.
An 1893 executive branch defense of a statute that required the testimony of “at least one white witness” resulted in a Supreme Court ruling that the law was constitutional “because it was reasonable for Congress to presume that nonwhite witnesses could not be trusted.” Not much has changed: at the time of the writing of Cole’s essay, the executive office had sought to deny First Amendment rights to permanent resident aliens.
Today’s generation of “them” might be the future generation of “us,” and they will not view our treatment of immigrants kindly.