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Column: Sorting fears from facts about Hispanic migrants (w/video)

Angela Navarro, right, who has been living in the United States with her American-born children despite a deportation order issued 10 years ago, looks over a letter with New Sanctuary Movement community organizer Nicole Kligerman at the West Kensington Ministry church in Philadelphia. Navarro took sanctuary with her children and husband, a U.S. citizen, in the church to help her avoid being deported to her native Honduras.
Angela Navarro, right, who has been living in the United States with her American-born children despite a deportation order issued 10 years ago, looks over a letter with New Sanctuary Movement community organizer Nicole Kligerman at the West Kensington Ministry church in Philadelphia. Navarro took sanctuary with her children and husband, a U.S. citizen, in the church to help her avoid being deported to her native Honduras.
Published Dec. 27, 2014

President Barack Obama's executive order on immigration was greeted with mixed reactions. Republican outrage focused on the supposedly negative effects of extending residential stays, including adverse effects on our labor force and social service network from the predominantly Latino wave of immigrants.

But the facts reveal a different set of circumstances.

There are about 11 million illegal immigrants in this country. Thirty percent of the 40 million current immigrants in the United States are from Mexico. The Hispanic population in this country increased by 15.2 million (43 percent), between 2000 and 2010, according to the U.S. Census. Many non-Hispanics believe that a majority of Latinos are undocumented, but the Pew Hispanic Center reports that only 18 percent are.

There are other misconceptions about the more than 50 million Latinos living here. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, net migration from Mexico to the United States stopped in 2012. This might be the result of increased border enforcement and deportations. (The Obama administration has deported more than 2 million immigrants.) The decrease in Latino immigration also coincided with our Great Recession and the reduction in jobs.

Although there are large numbers of immigrants in the United States today, we have proportionately fewer than at other times in our history. For example, in 1910 our population consisted of 14.7 percent immigrants, compared to 12.9 percent in 2010. And sociological research reveals that new immigrants are less likely to engage in criminal activity than people already here because they risk bringing attention to themselves and being deported.

Evidence about the extent of welfare use among new immigrants is also revealing. The Center for Immigration Studies reported 23 percent of immigrants and their children were living in poverty in 2011, compared to 13.5 percent of native workers and their families. In 2010 they found that 36 percent of these immigrants used at least one major welfare program (usually food assistance and Medicaid), compared to 23 percent of people already here. Yet, 68 percent of new immigrants hold jobs, the same proportion as the indigenous population, and there is little evidence that immigrants are taking jobs away from native workers and depressing wages except at the lowest levels of employment.

Today's immigrants make major contributions to our labor force and economy. A study by the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy found that undocumented immigrants paid $11.2 billion in state and local taxes in 2010, but they are barred from receiving some social services, in effect paying for benefits they can't receive.

It is estimated that immigrants pay over $90 billion in taxes annually, and they will contribute nearly half a trillion dollars to the Social Security Tax Fund between 1998 and 2022. Economist Francine Lipman calculated that the government collected $7 billion in Social Security taxes in 2003 from 7.5 million workers with mismatched Social Security numbers, presumably from illegal immigrants.

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Despite fears that Latinos resist assimilation, research by Pew and others indicate that second-generation residents not only learn English but don't learn their parents' native language.

The recent influx of immigrant children fleeing deprivation and conflict in their native lands has fueled the anti-immigration debate. Fairness and legality argue for upholding the law, filing the appropriate papers and undergoing due process. This reality cannot be ignored. But to demonize millions of people who live here and contribute to our economy, including 5.5 million of their children (4 million born here) is also unfair.

The population growth rate of the United States has stabilized around 1 percent. Together with the increasing age of the resident white population, this is insufficient to meet the estimated need of 40 million new workers over the next few decades. The only possibility for filling the jobs of the future is through increased immigration.

Studies by the George W. Bush Institute in partnership with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce found that 40 percent of all Fortune 500 companies were founded by an immigrant or a child of an immigrant. And the Partnership for a New American Economy, a nonprofit founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, found that foreign-born nationals played a role in 75 percent of the patents at the nation's top research universities.

Immigrants are here, and the future of our society depends on our ability to provide them with the social services (health, housing, food and education) that will enable them to become productive participants in our society.

H. Roy Kaplan was the executive director of the National Conference of Christians and Jews for Tampa Bay. He teaches courses on racism at the University of South Florida. His most recent book is "Understanding Conflict and Change in a Multicultural World." He wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.