Immigration Myths Debunked

Originally Published at

Immigration is a hot button issue in both the U.S. as a whole, and in New York City specifically, at the moment, as Mayor De Blasio hands out ID cards and the president debates immigration reform. Here are a few “facts” about NYC immigrants that you might want to reconsider (with handy dandy graphs!)

MYTH: Immigrants All Vote Democrat

In a speech during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held in Maryland this March, billionaire and reality TV embarrassment pundit, Donald Trump, made the argument that  a vote for immigration reform was a vote for liberals.

“If you let the 11 million — which will grow to 30 million — people in, I don’t care who stands up … and talks about ‘let everybody in,’ you won’t get one vote, every one of those votes goes to the Democrats,” said Trump.

Trump is hardly alone in his belief.

In reality, however, the politics of the U.S.’s undocumented immigrant population is not so easily simplified.  The difference in Republican allegiance between undocumented hispanic immigrants, documented foreign-born hispanics and native-born hispanics  is marginal, claims  a 2012 study by the Pew Research Institute. And, the missing votes aren’t necessarily going to the democratic party. Instead, a larger percentage of undocumented immigrants appear to be political free agents.

One might argue that all first and second generation Americans are predisposed to liberal politics, but some immigrant groups are actually more likely to skew republican than native-born Americans, even in primarily left-leaning cities like New York.  It was found that in areas of Brooklyn with the largest population of Ukrainian and Russian immigrants,  55 percent of  votes went to the Republican party in the 2008 election, or so says a 2012 article by the New York Times. By comparison, only 36 percent of New York as a whole voted Republican. Immigrant Voting1.jpg

MYTH: Immigration Brings Crime

One of the most common anti-immigration rhetorics on Twitter focuses on ‘immigrant crime.’

Screen Shot 2014-03-11 at 10.58.49 PM

In the U.S. as a whole, immigrants are five times LESS likely to end up incarcerated than native-born Americans.

In New York, 2013 heralded the lowest murder rate in the city since the ’50’s while the percent of foreign-born New Yorkers is at its highest in more than a century (37.2 percent) By contrast, the highest crime rates in New York City occurred during the ’70’s and ’80’s, when immigration levels were at their lowest.

MYTH: Foreign Language Speaking Immigrants Don’t Speak English

As NewcomersNYC’s own Darturnurro Clark points out, New York has always been a city of multiple languages. But, a 2014 Ad by Coca-Cola, brought to light the fact that not all Americans are copacetic with the dialectic diaspora.

This is the Ad:

And this is some of the polemical reaction collated by Matt Binder’s PublicShaming Tumblr (click on the image) : Screen Shot 2014-03-12 at 12.03.02 AM

But, by far and away, most immigrant New Yorkers can and do speak English. The 2011 Census records that more than 77 percent of New Yorkers who speak a language other than English at home also speak English “very well” to “well.” By contrast, more than 80 percent of Dubai’s immigration population don’t speak the native and official language, Arabic.

WNYC presents a graph of English spoken “very well” in non-English speaking homes in the city (click on image for full graph):

Screen Shot 2014-03-12 at 12.59.51 AM

MYTH: Immigration is Bad for the Economy

In an episode called ‘Goobacks’, TV satire South Park poked fun at the concerns of immigrations detractors.


But, as easy as it is to poke fun, many Americans do believe that immigrants are a threat to their economic welfare. In specific, many feel that cheap immigrant labour is creating an economic environment in which the American labour force will struggle to compete.

This is a particularly salient fear amongst small business owners; in the South Bronx, for example, part of the dialogue surrounding the city council primaries centered around the idea of the interloping Chinese restaurant that, with its cheap prices, was putting the more established food joints out of business. And, there’s no definitive proof that wages aren’t decreasing as a result of the competitive labour market.

However,  in terms of the economy as a whole, immigration has had a resoundingly positive influence. The areas with the largest amount of immigrants in New York City are also the areas that now have the largest amount of economic growth.  Between 2000 and 2007, for example, Kew Gardens and Woodhaven grew an astronomic 60 percent as the immigrant population boomed.

Christopher Matthews from CNN even argues that the country’s robust immigration flow is what has saved it from the decay of old world Europe. Considering that the U.S., and New York as one of its business capitals, has just barely recovered from the crippling effects of the great financial crisis, any thing that brings growth must have a positive impact on the prospects of the American worker, no matter where he or she was born.


Tagged , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: