Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

June 3, 2010

Host: Ted Simons

Illegal Immigration Myths

  • There is a lot of misinformation about illegal immigrants. Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute has completed a research study, busting some of those myths. Study author Bill Hart will discuss his findings.
  • Bill Hart - ASU Morrison Institute for Public Policy
Category: Immigration   |   Keywords: immigration, illegal immigrants, ASU,

View Transcript
Ted Simons:
Lots of information is being tossed around regarding the impact of illegal immigrants on society. Some of that information is factual, some, not so much. Here to do some myth busting on illegal immigration is Bill Hart, the author after recent immigration report from ASU's Morrison institute, a public policy research organization. Thanks for joining us.

Bill Hart:
Thank you for having me.

Ted Simons:
Why a report on the perception against the reality of immigration, and talk about the process.

Bill Hart:
Well, Morrison institute is, our mission is to try to bring fact-based, evidence-based information to debates over public policy issues. So that policymakers and citizens can figure out what they want to do. In a more rational framework of information. We decided to put this out because clearly the debate over immigration over illegal immigration is being conducted at a very high decibel level, and in the process we've heard a number of sort of fairly dramatic statements that seem to be either untrue, or probably untrue, or unknowable. And so we thought we might contribute to the debate by putting this out.

Ted Simons:
And contribute in a sense that the more than I son institute has not taken a stand on senate bill 1070.

Bill Hart:
We're not advocates. We're analysts. We don't take positions on anything, really. We're not for 1070 or against it, and actually this process began prior to 1070's passage. So we've been -- obviously the immigration debate's been big one for a long time, so we started putting this together before 1070 came out.

Ted Simons:
Let's hit a couple of these perceptions. Most violent crime is committed in Arizona by undocumented immigrants.

Bill Hart:
Right. That's almost undoubtedly false. For one thing, there's little or no record kept by law enforcement agencies when they arrest people as to whether or not they're documented or undocumented. There's some, more than there used to be, but there's very little. Also, even before that, most crime is of course not reported to police by anyone. Here or elsewhere. And also, I think people tend to conflate concerns about violence in northern Mexico, which is among the drug cartels, which is really horrifying, they conflate that with crimes that are committed by human smugglers against the people they smuggles, or conflicts between smugglers, and that's of course bad, but it really is limited to a fairly small part of the community. And thirdly, they may conflate it with drug crimes and drug cartels while the vast majority of undocumented immigrants have no connection with drugs or crime.

Ted Simons:
But with all these perceptions, there is an element of not knowing. Isn’t there?

Bill Hart:
There is. There's -- I think there's less of a percentage, perception or degree of not knowing in this than some of the others. It's pretty clear that we can say that undocumented immigrants represent a relatively small percentage of crimes in Arizona.

Ted Simons:
Let's hit another perception, that illegal immigrants are entering as at unprecedent the numbers.

Bill Hart:
Yeah, that's also almost completely clearly not true. I think everyone, all demographers regardless of where they stand on this issue, agree that there's been a sharp decline in the number of people entering illegally in the past two years because of the economic slowdown. And even prior to that, probably the height of undocumented immigration, probably occurred in the -- in about eight years ago. And it's been declining slowly since then. So it's pretty clear that that's not true, that the number of people coming in has dropped. Significantly in Arizona, and elsewhere. And in addition, a lot of undocumented people are thought to have left Arizona to go elsewhere in the U.S. to find jobs.

Ted Simons:
OK, conversely, the idea that tougher laws, immigration laws, tougher border enforcement will rid Arizona of undocumented immigrants.

Bill Hart:
Right. That is -- it depends a lot on what you mean by a lot. But I think most people feel that most observers feel that the Arizona's recent laws against undocumented immigrants have probably had some effect on driving people out of Arizona or discouraging them from coming in. One has to assume that. You have to assume that, but I think most observers think that much greater impact has been had by the recession. And that that's why people have left. As far as sealing border and getting rid of all the undocumented, I think it's probably physically impossible to seal border. I think border patrol people will tell you this, number one, and number two, large numbers of undocumented immigrants have children who are born in the U.S., and so are citizens. And it seems unlikely to me that they're going to leave very easily. It will be a big decision for them to leave, take their children out of school, etc.

Ted Simons:
OK, let's get another perception here. The idea that undocumented immigrants, illegal immigrants, take jobs from Americans and depress wages.

Bill Hart:
That is more after mixed bag, we think. There's truth to that. I think it's clear that if you're a low-wage worker in the U.S. and you don't have, for example, don't have a high school education, are not particularly skilled, you are in direct competition with the great bulk of undocumented immigrants, so you probably will suffer. Your wages will be depressed, or your job might be more difficult to get. So for certain sectors of the population, that is true. As far as overall, if you're an employer, employing these people, it's a positive benefit for you. So for that sector of the population, it's a benefit as it is for the undocumented people themselves. As far as an overall drain on the economy, the -- it's certainly true that the bulk of undocument the immigrants are low-income, low-wage workers. And they thus don't earn a lot of money and don't pay as much in taxes as they might if they were higher wage. But they do pay taxes, and so that contributes and balances to a certain degree the costs they impose on the system.

Ted Simons:
Last point, a couple of minutes left. We can combine a couple of perceptions on the general drain on the economy. Public Services, public health, crime, prisons, education, that illegal immigrants are straining all of these systems.

Bill Hart:
Unfortunately people like me are unpopular because we often end up saying, yes, maybe, a little bit here, or it's unknowable. There are about 19 -- I think 15% of prison inmates are undocumented immigrants. About the same percentage of jail inmates in the Maricopa system, the largest in the state, on the other hand, they don't commit a lot of crimes, they contribute to the economy, they pay taxes, they pay social security taxes, which they'll probably never recover. They do impose costs on the health system, but of course laws now make them ineligible for most health care costs. So again, it's unfortunately not a very satisfying answer.

Ted Simons:
We'll leave it at that. Thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it.

Bill Hart:
thank you.

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