The Basics – Facts about Refugees and Immigrants
Do you know the difference between refugees, immigrants, undocumented persons, and asylum seekers? Here are very brief definitions of people who fall into these categories:
- Refugees – Persons who are outside the country of their nationality, and who are unable or unwilling to return to, and unable or unwilling to avail themselves of the protection of the country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. (from The Refugee Act of 1980)
- Immigrants – Foreign-born nationals who come to the US with an intention to settle here permanently and usually for reasons other than fear of persecution.
- Undocumented persons – Individuals who enter the country without permission and those who enter legally but violate the terms of entry by overstaying their visas.
- Political asylum applicants – Individuals who have requested refugee status having already entered the US, but whose applications are still pending.
You Can Help By Helping to Dispel Myths about Immigrants
As our congregation discerns whether to become an Immigrant Welcoming Congregation, it is important that we are able to counter some of the many myths about immigration with the truth.
Immigrants are overrunning our country, and most are here illegally.
- The Facts: It is true that there are more immigrants living in the U.S. than ever before. However, the percentage of immigrants in the overall population is not much different than many other times throughout our history. Today, immigrants make up approximately13% of the total U.S. population. More than 60% of immigrants in the United States today have lived here for at least 15 years, and a large majority of immigrants have lawful status. Today, the net migration from Mexico (the number of people entering the U.S. from Mexico minus the number of people leaving the U.S. to go to Mexico) is around zero. Undocumented immigrants make up about 3.5% of the nation’s total population.
- Myth #2: Immigrants hurt our country financially by taking jobs and services without paying taxes.
- The Facts: Though some people claim that immigrants are taking job opportunities away from people born in the U.S., immigrants actually help to create new jobs. In addition to buying American and local products, which helps create jobs, immigrants often start their own businesses. In fact, immigrants are twice as likely to start businesses as citizens born in the U.S., and companies owned by immigrants are more likely to hire employees than companies owned by native-born citizens. States with large numbers of immigrants report lower unemployment for everyone. Immigrants collectively pay between $90 and $140 billion each year in taxes, and a recent study found that undocumented immigrants alone paid more than $11.8 billion in taxes in 2012.
- Myth # 3: Immigrants are coming to the U.S. to obtain welfare and other benefits.
- The facts: Most immigrants who come to this country work hard to take care of their families and themselves. Many studies have shown that on average immigrants pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits, meaning the taxes they pay more than cover the cost of things like public education and healthcare. With very few exceptions (such as access to medical care for victims of human trafficking), undocumented immigrants are not eligible for federal public benefits such as Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare and food stamps.
Source: Adapted from the Anti-Defamation League, 2017