What if all the illegals left America – all 20 million of them?
There is a popular belief in America, and in most countries, that if all the illegal immigrants could be rounded up and deported, most of that country’s crime and economic problems would go away with them. But how accurate and reliable is that commonly held belief?
Illegal immigration and crime are hotly debated issues in many countries, and the debate is not new. I can remember this same debate raging in New Zealand in the 1950s. New Zealanders wanted to be rid of English, Dutch and Pacific Island immigrants, most of whom were fully legal. In 1962 I went to live in Australia for two years, and the same debate was raging there. Australians wanted all Italians, Greeks and Germans sent home. In 1971 I spent another year working in Australia and the only thing that had changed during my absence was that Australians had started to accept the earlier waves of immigrants and their descendants, and were focusing their attention on New Zealanders, even though they appeared to accept me and other New Zealanders that they knew personally.
It was about that time that I realised for the first time that the whole world had a bee in its bonnet about immigration. But a study of history will quickly illustrate that xenophobia is not new. It has been going on for centuries, even thousands of years, and has been the cause of countless wars and wide-scale and unnecessary human suffering, and it really should stop.
Today, I read a post on Facebook titled ‘What if the illegals left?’ Initially, it had the appearance of being well-research and authoritative. It even posed a question regarding the economic consequences of sending home America’s 20 million illegals. But as I read on, I didn’t find what I had expected to find. The whole tone of the article suddenly became a biased and illogical diatribe about the savings to the American economy, the immediate reduction in the crime rate, and an instant and magical improvement in the American way of life.
Having travelled and/or worked in a number of countries, as well as working with people from almost 200 different countries, I think I can justifiably claim to have some understanding of ‘foreigners’ and immigrants. I have also had the experience of living in a country that lost about 5 percent of its population in just one year. That loss amounted to an economic catastrophe for that country. For America, losing 20 million people in one go would be even more catastrophic. The country would be bankrupted overnight.
The economic savings claimed by the author of ‘What if the illegals left?’ are all based on false and emotive assumptions, rather than factual down-to-earth records. For example, it was claimed that an additional $401 billion extra in taxes would be collected. That could only be achieved by increasing tax rates, because there would be fewer people paying taxes. Then it was claimed that $80 billion a year less would be sent out of the country to the illegals’ homelands, but how much does the rest of the population send out of the country for foreign travel and paying for imported goods? The amount immigrants send home is always grossly overstated. In fact, immigrants tend to spend almost 100 percent of their income just getting established in their new homes. So that is just another popular, and emotive, urban myth.
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As I read the article I realised that the journalist’s name was Tina Griego and I wondered if that was an immigrant name, perhaps from Mexico? Well, I suppose the American population, like that of New Zealand, Australia and Canada, had to come from somewhere. Without immigration those countries would not exist in the way that they do today. People often justify early immigration by saying that ‘the country was empty then,’ or ‘they were hard-working, law-abiding people.’ But in their time they faced the same ill-informed prejudices that today’s immigrants face.
Then Ms Griego claimed that 28 percent of prison inmates are illegal immigrants, but that is in contradiction with the official figures, which show that for a national incarceration rate of 3.04 percent in the 18-39 year age group in the American population, only 0.86 percent of prisoners are foreign born.
At the end of the article, it was claimed that America would make saving of $538 billion from sending home the 20 million illegal immigrants, but that figure has been created out of a collection of highly emotive pieces of claptrap. Not only would there be no savings at all, but there would be a cost that would be far too great for the country to sustain.
It takes population to keep the economy ticking over. Immigrants work hard to get a better life than they had at home. They have to work hard to pay the rent, buy a home, fill it with furniture, educate the children, and so on. When immigrants spend money they keep others in jobs and businesses. If 20 million people were to be deported the consequences would be millions of homes sitting empty, unsold or unrented. Millions of shops and factories closed, and every industry facing the most serious ever downturn. The unemployment rate among American citizens would be the highest ever recorded. The hard times of the 1930s would seem like a mere hiccup compared with the result of 20 million hard-working, law-abiding people being deported.
|This lot should be allowed to land,|
but after that definitely no more
I leave the final word to the American Immigration Council:
This report has been updated. Please see for the latest information.
Anti-immigrant activists and politicians are fond of relying upon anecdotes to support their oft-repeated claim that immigrants, especially undocumented immigrants, are dangerous criminals. This mythical claim is usually based on rhetorical sleight of hand in which individual stories of heinous crimes committed by immigrants are presented as “proof” that we must restrict immigration or “get tough” on the undocumented in order to save the lives of U.S. citizens. While these kinds of arguments are emotionally powerful, they are intellectually dishonest. There is no doubt that dangerous criminals must be punished, and that immigrants who are dangerous criminals should not be allowed to enter the United States or should be deported if they already are here. But harsh immigration policies are not effective in fighting crime because—as numerous studies over the past have shown—immigrants are likely to commit crimes or be behind bars than the native-born, and high rates of immigration are associated with higher rates of crime. This holds true for both legal immigrants and the undocumented, regardless of their country of origin or level of education.
The problem of crime in the United States is not caused or even aggravated by immigrants, regardless of their legal status. This is hardly surprising since immigrants come to the United States to pursue economic and educational opportunities not available in their home countries and to build better lives for themselves and their families. As a result, they have little to gain and much to lose by breaking the law. Undocumented immigrants in particular have even more reason to not run afoul of the law given the risk of deportation that their lack of legal status entails. Public policies must be based on facts, not anecdotes or emotions. And the fact is that the vast majority of immigrants are criminals.