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WaPo Whiffs on Illegal Immigration Concerns October 1, 2015

Posted by geoff in News.
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I don’t know what’s wrong with the Washington Post these days, but following closely on the heels of their disastrous 3-Pinocchio rating for Carly Fiorina (which has received a huge backlash), they’ve managed to whiff on another subject. Today’s WaPo buffoonery concerns the “anti-immigration movement.”

The WaPo author (Jeff Guo) claims that there are four misconceptions driving the anti-immigration movement, and then proceeds to debunk them with the help of a recent report from the National Academy of Sciences. The four misconceptions are:

  • Immigrants don’t learn English fast enough
  • Immigrants are uneducated
  • Immigrants make crime worse
  • Immigrants are unemployed

But Guo’s entire analysis is based on a comparison of concerns over illegal immigrants with statistics based on all immigrants. He states out the outset that Trump’s popularity is in part derived from his anti-immigration stance, but Trump’s stance is anti-illegal immigration. You don’t build a fence to keep out legal immigrants – you build it to control illegal immigration.

So the article can be immediately discounted, because Guo is tilting at windmills. Attacking a straw man. Battling demons from his own id.

But you can also go through the points one-by-one and see how badly he’s warped the story. It’s fun and informative. Here’s the run-down:

Learning English: The NAS report says immigrants are learning English faster than their predecessors “in part…because immigrants are much more likely to have learned it in their native countries. Among recent legal immigrants, nearly 40 percent say they had taken at least one class in English before coming over, and 48 percent are proficient in the language.”

But note the qualifier: “Among recent legal immigrants…” So toss that stat right out. Instead, look at this:

Nearly half of Los Angeles County’s immigrants here illegally lack a high school diploma, and 60% do not speak English well, according to a study.

Education: Here’s Guo’s argument concerning educational attainment:

People without a high school diploma still make up about 32 percent of the foreign-born (compared to only 11 percent of native-born adults) — but now immigrants are also more likely than the native-born to have post-graduate credentials. This is thanks to immigration policies in recent decades that have ushered in a cohort of highly-skilled workers.

So even by cheating and including legal immigrants and people working here on visas, they still have a huge cohort of undereducated immigrants. Anti-illegal immigration point proven. But just for chuckles, here’s what Pew says about education among illegal immigrants:

Adult unauthorized immigrants are disproportionately likely to be poorly educated. Among unauthorized immigrants ages 25-64, 47% have less than a high school education. By contrast, only 8% of U.S. born residents ages 25-64 have not graduated from high school.

Crime: It’s well-known that first generation immigrants, legal and illegal, tended to have lower crime rates than native-born folk, but that the 2nd and 3rd generations tended to have higher crime rates. I’ve written about that before, and my private theory was that the first generation came here for work and opportunity, so they kept their heads down and focused on making a living. But they were unprepared for the temptations and predations of modern US society to which their children succumbed.

But the stats supporting that interpretation are from the 2000 census: Trump and his followers are more concerned about the current wave of illegal immigrants, who are not as savory as their predecessors. This article from The Atlantic points out some of the issues with using dated statistics in assessing the problem.

But I’d like to resort to an old argument that a friend of mine used on me when we were talking about the problem of US military rapes of Okinawan women. “But the rate of rape by our servicemen is no higher than the local rate,” said I, using the exact same argument as Guo. “But if there were no US military presence in Okinawa, the rape rate would be zero,” he replied. Which completely shut me up.

It doesn’t matter if you’re allowing illegal importation of crime at a lower rate than our population – what matters is that you’re allowing illegal importation of crime.

Employment. First of all, I think most people are concerned that illegal immigrants are adversely impacting teen and minority job opportunities, which they most certainly are. But let’s entertain Guo’s strawman that the primary concern is whether they are employed or not.

Once again, Guo and the NAS use “foreign-born” workers, which includes legal immigrants and visa holders. And they find that those workers, unsurprisingly, have a higher employment rate than native-born workers. Duh.

While there aren’t any good stats on the unemployment rate for illegals, we can get a sense of the adequacy of their employment by looking at their use of social services. After all, we don’t directly care if they’re working – we care about their impact on society if they aren’t pulling in enough money to support themselves. From The Heritage Foundation:

In 2010, the average unlawful immigrant household received around $24,721 in government benefits and services while paying some $10,334 in taxes. This generated an average annual fiscal deficit (benefits received minus taxes paid) of around $14,387 per household. This cost had to be borne by U.S. taxpayers.

And just as in the case of crime, it doesn’t matter if the rate of use of social services is lower than that of native-born folk or legal immigrants, what matters is that they use any at all.

Conclusion. Pretty bad job by NAS and WaPo in treating this issue with any honesty or relevance. They really need to pay better attention to the arguments they’re trying to debunk, because they just come off as out of touch and/or manipulative.

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