The Migrant “Crisis” and 10 Misperceptions About Immigration

Photo by Greg Bulla

For years, there has been much consternation and news coverage over the southern border. The former president—Biden’s predecessor—and his inane and racist “Build the wall” campaign had his supporters in a state of disquiet. He actually and openly admitted that he used it at a rally and the crowd loved it, so he just kept saying it.

Even if you take a cursory look at the news, it’s a sure bet that you have seen headlines about an “unprecedented migrant crisis.” On social media, memes about “invasions” from countries south of the border by those who refuse to “wait in line” are also common.

The news media often discuss migration as a crisis for American citizens, not for people fleeing violence and poverty. The current US immigration system significantly contributes to the needless suffering of those seeking safe harbor.

What has frequently been described as an “inundation” is not new. First, let’s take a brief big-picture view of things.

There has always been a lot of immigration to the United States. According to the Pew Research Center, the highest percentage of immigrants in relation to the US domestic population was back in 1890 (15 percent). American citizens somehow fared just fine when it was easier for people to get into the country, which until the latter half of the nineteenth century just required filling out a landing card. Today, the number of those from abroad relative to those born here is a bit lower (14 percent). As in the past, we will not only survive, but our society will thrive thanks to the contributions of those whose first languages are not English.

 Concerning the southern border, there are relatively more migrants trying to enter the country than in previous years. However, this is not really new, either. US Border Patrol data reviewed by the Pew Research Center reveal that in 2022, border agents had over 209,000 encounters with migrants at the southern border. An “encounter” either means an apprehension (when a migrant is detained) or an expulsion (when a person is sent back to their country of origin or to a transit nation). Nearly 23 years ago, in March 2000, the number of such encounters was pretty much the same. Again, there is nothing new under the sun in this regard.

A major problem is that there are too few roads on which a person may enter the country and that can make “waiting in line” take more than 20 years. For those in desperate situations, waiting two decades is not an option. Unlike when people came through Ellis Island, there is no line in which one can wait. The major ways that someone may legally enter the United States are through family reunification, work visas, or humanitarian aid. For those without family ties or job prospects in the United States—and even for people who need asylum—the opportunities are relatively few and numerically limited.

There are two major reasons greater numbers of people are today trying to get into the United States compared to the recent past. The first is due to numerous international and national crises. Deep social, political, and economic problems in places such as Cuba, Haiti, Ukraine and Venezuela have all contributed to what social scientists call “push” factors. People are pushed out of their homes because of violence, hunger, or poverty.  In other words, increasing numbers of migrants from new sending countries are trying to find refuge in the United States.

The second big reason is that there is a very long backlog of applications for asylum and refugee status because of a Trump-era public health measure called Title 42. This rule means that certain groups cannot make asylum applications because passage across the southern border has been closed or restricted since April 2020, back when the COVID-19 pandemic began. As a result, the regular processing of paperwork has slowed down considerably. Meanwhile, more and more people have congregated on the Mexican side of the border. At first, the restriction applied to those from the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

President Biden recently announced that the rule will be expanded to include foreign nationals from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela. The new guidelines, called humanitarian parole, will require those who apply to be in possession of significant financial resources and have sponsors in the United States. Many have neither and will probably have to seek whatever meagre protection other countries can afford.

Those who need help are the ones in crisis and do not constitute an invasion. Many are simply seeking safety, just like those who needed it in the past.

It is long past time for immigration reform.

Here is a list of the 10 most common misperceptions about immigration. It is very likely you have heard of at least some of these.


US government statistics and reputable criminology literature have shown that high concentrations of immigrants do not make crime worse and may even help to lower it. It is worth noting that US-born citizens are twice as likely as undocumented migrants to commit violent crimes and 2.5 times more likely to be arrested for drug offenses.


It is highly unlikely that a foreign-born terrorist would kill a US citizen. A study conducted by the Cato Institute in 2019 found that the chances are 1 in 3.8 million per year. The likelihood of a refugee killing someone in a terrorist attack is 1 in 3.86 billion per year.


When an immigrant enters the workforce, a US citizen is either not affected at all or finds work more suitable to their skills. Regarding so-called low or unskilled work, some Americans move into managerial or leadership roles because of their proficiency in English and knowledge of the culture. Labor displacement can happen, but it is a very small percentage and primarily affects those without high school diplomas, who, as I noted, often move into better positions.


Undocumented migrants are not eligible for welfare, food stamps or Medicaid. Eligible migrants or legal immigrants use government benefits at far lower rates than US-born citizens. In general, they are about 30 percent less likely to apply for welfare than the US-born population even though rates of poverty among some immigrant communities are far higher.


No, they do not. According to Stephen Yale-Loehr, a professor of immigration law at Cornell University, documented and undocumented immigrants paid $328 billion in federal, state and local taxes in 2014 alone. The Social Security Administration estimates that unauthorized migrant workers paid about $12 billion into the Social Security trust in 2010. As noted, they are not eligible for benefits. By contrast, former President Trump paid out $750 in federal income taxes in 2016.


Many foreign-born workers move to regions in the United States where there are labor shortages, stimulating local economies. Migrants are often more willing to move because of fewer familial ties. Lots of migrant women work in childcare, which allows native-born parents, especially American women, to seek employment outside the home.


After a decade of residency, a vast majority of immigrants speak English well. As a former ESL teacher, I can say that the demand for English classes is pretty healthy and it often exceeds available seats in the classroom.


The pattern for assimilation has been roughly the same for over a century. Ethnic enclaves in major cities generally only last for about three (and often fewer) generations. One immigrant group is often replaced by others, who then repeat the pattern of settlement and assimilation.


Approximately 75 percent of all immigrants are here legally. The other 25 percent are not, but of this group, 40 percent overstayed their visas.


This is false. The southern border is significantly militarized and monitored by almost 17, 000 agents. The cost of policing the border is over $16 billion per year. Under the Biden administration hundreds of thousands of people have either been refused entry or deported.

Michael Slager is an English teacher at Loyola University Chicago.