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Dispelling 10 Common Myths About Immigrants and Refugees

  April 26, 2024

By Alexandra Weber, Senior Vice President and Chief Advancement Officer at the International Institute of New England

Public conversations around immigration policy are becoming more heated, politicized, and, dangerously, filled with inaccuracies. Educating ourselves on immigration policy, the immigration process, the level of support refugees and immigrants receive, and how they pay that support back in dividends—and then sharing this information with others—can help create a more honest narrative and a warmer welcome for newcomers. Here’s a breakdown of some common misunderstandings corrected with nonpartisan facts and figures

1. Myth: It’s easy to enter and remain in the U.S. 

Reality: The legal immigration process is arduous, complicated, and backloggedand many of the rules change in response to current events and political considerations. 

  • For refugees, the process to come to the U.S. is offered to very few, entails multiple steps, including an extensive vetting process, and often takes years to achieve (see our blog post, “Explainer: The U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program” to learn more).
  • For many other immigrants eligible for U.S. entry, the complexity and cost of the application process is intense. Many allowed to enter are given only a temporary opportunity to stay and those hoping for longer-term protection must fight uphill battles to adjust their initial status to a more permanent status that allows them to remain in the country.
  • Once an individual files the application for citizenship, which cannot happen until at least five years after receiving a green card, they often have to wait years more. In 2012, the average processing time from citizenship application to approval was 4.6 months. Today, the wait has tripled in length to 15.5 months. 

2. Myth: Immigrants are more likely to be criminals.  

Reality: The opposite is true. 

  • Statistically, immigrants residing in the U.S. are less likely to be criminals. A recent study analyzing 150 years of U.S. Census data shows that immigrants have never been incarcerated at a higher rate than U.S.-born individuals. The gap has widened since 1960, and immigrants today are 60% less likely to be incarcerated than U.S.-born citizens.
  • Furthermore, crime rates actually decreased as immigration grew in 200 U.S. cities from 1970 to 2019.
  • While Fentanyl trafficking in the U.S. has been persistently blamed on immigrants, this claim is false. As recently reported by the New Hampshire Bulletin, “In 2022, U.S. Sentencing Commission data showed that Americans accounted for nearly 90 percent of convicted fentanyl drug traffickers, and 96 percent of fentanyl seizures occurred at official ports of entry, not along migration routes between checkpoints, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection reports analyzed by the Washington Post.” 

crime rates actually decreased as immigration grew in 200 U.S. cities from 1970 to 2019.

3. Myth: Refugees and immigrants receive an unfair level of support from the government and are a drain on the U.S. economy. 

Reality: The support new arrivals receive is extremely limited. Additionally, most refugees and immigrants enter the U.S. workforce immediately upon becoming eligible and then go on to contribute tremendously to our economy, giving back far more than they ever received 

  • Refugees and persecuted populations receive only basic support on arrival through public programs such as food stamps. Most begin their lives in the U.S. with extremely limited resources. Public support received by these families is temporary and requires participation in the U.S. workforce. Initial support is also repaid many times over as families contribute to the economy and tax base immediately and, if allowed to stay, across a lifetime.
  • Newcomers strengthen our workforce, filling roles in healthcare, STEM, construction, environmental services, and more, and 22% of entrepreneurs nationwide were born outside of the U.S. According to a 2021 report from the American Immigration Council, immigrants in the U.S. have a collective spending power of $1.4 trillion and paid $525 billion in taxes each year.
  • In many New England states, immigrants are the key and often only strategy to combatting a shrinking workforce and community. Our local and national economies depend on immigrants. In fact, according to a recent report from the Migration Policy Institute, “Immigrants and their U.S.-born children accounted for all U.S. civilian labor force growth in the past two decades.  

4. Myth: Immigrants take jobs from other Americans.

Reality: This is a falsehood often used to pit vulnerable groups against one another and divert focus from policies that exploit and undervalue workers. It is untrue on many levels. 

  • “The Lump of Labor Fallacy” is a term economists use for the misconception that there is only a fixed number of jobs to be had in the U.S., implying that newcomers would need to take or limit opportunities from U.S.-born individuals. As a recent study from the Economic Policy Institute shows: “the idea that immigrants are making things worse for U.S.-born workers is wrong. The reality is that the labor market is absorbing immigrants at a rapid pace, while simultaneously maintaining record-low unemployment for U.S.-born workers.”
  • Far from stealing jobs, immigrants often take on taxing jobs that other Americans are not willing to do. As the Brookings Institution has stated: “The impact of immigrant labor on the wages of native-born workers is low… However, [immigrant] workers often work the unpleasant, back-breaking jobs that native-born workers are not willing to do.”
  • We currently have more job openings than qualified applicants to fill them both nationwide and in New England, including dangerous labor shortages in healthcare fields. 
  • The future of our labor force depends on immigration. As the U.S. birthrate steadily declines, immigrants are vital to growing the labor force. According to a recent report from the Migration Policy Institute, “With U.S. birth rates falling, the immigrant-origin population has been a vital source of growth for the U.S. population in the past two decades. Without immigrants and their U.S.-born children, the prime working-age population (ages 25–54) would have shrunk by more than 8 million people and the population of children and young adults under age 24 would have shrunk by more than 5 million people between 2000 and 2023.”  

5. Myth: Today’s immigrants don’t want to learn English.    

Reality: Most immigrants are extremely eager to learn English in order to navigate their communities, advocate for themselves and their families, and enter and succeed in the workforce as quickly as possible. Here in New England, every language instruction provider, including IINE, has long waiting lists for our free ESOL classes. Due to budget cuts, providers currently fill less than 10% of demand for these classes. 

6. Myth: U.S. asylum policies are causing a crisis. If the U.S. ended or restricted peoples’ rights to enter the U.S. seeking a safe haven from persecution and violence, we wouldn’t have unmanageable immigration surges. 

Reality: People seeking freedom from persecution and violence will do whatever they can to reach safety. Attempts to restrict their ability to apply for legal protection, such as Title 42 and “Remain in Mexico, have not stopped or slowed attempts; in fact, attempts have grown exponentially during the implementation of these policies, which have done nothing to address the root causes of displacement. Restrictions merely backlog the legal process by millions of cases and remove protections for an extremely vulnerable population, exposing them to further persecution and violence.  

7. Myth: Supposed asylum-seekers are really just coming here for jobs.

Reality: When people attempt to claim asylum, they have to prove that they face persecution or have a credible fear of persecution in their home countries that prevents them from returning.  

  • Most are fleeing repressive regimes and destabilization that threaten their lives. They make impossibly dangerous journeys to come to the U.S., jeopardizing the safety of their families and themselves—a risk they would never take if there was a better choice. Often arriving with few financial resources and immense language and cultural barriers, they begin their lives in the U.S. facing tremendous challenges.
  • This myth persists in large part because our current immigration legal system is so under-resourced that pending asylum cases stretch into the millions, and once started, can take as long as five years to complete.
  • Asylum is far from guaranteed and the uncertainty surrounding the process can be frightening and destabilizing. This is not a situation one would seek for any reason other than dire necessity.  

8. Myth: Immigrants are being imported by the Democratic Party to sway election results.

Reality: This harmful conspiracy theory has no basis in fact or logic.  

  • It takes many years for immigrants to gain eligibility to vote, and any claims that immigrants have voted who were not eligible to do so have been proven false by voting records.
  • Immigrants are not a homogeneous group, and the idea that future immigration will necessarily favor the Democratic Party falsely assumes that most immigrants vote the same way, or even that most immigrants from the same regions vote the same way, and that their political loyalties are unchangeable. Various claims that immigration has significantly favored the Democratic Party in elections have also been disproven.
  • In many cases, this conspiracy theory is predicated on a false assumption that immigrants simply vote based on immigration policy. Like most American voters, immigrants vote based on a range of issues that affect their quality of life and align with their diverse values.  

Any claims that immigrants have voted who were not eligible to do so have been proven false

9. Myth: Refugees and immigrants bring culture, ideology, or ideas that are harmful to the U.S

Reality: Immigrants most often come to the U.S. because of their affinity for its economic and governing principles, not in spite of them.  

10. Myth: The U.S. prioritizes services for refugees and immigrants more than for its own military veterans. 

Reality: It is counterproductive and illogical to artificially pit these priorities against one another, but if a comparison is called for, the investment is not even close.  

  • The U.S. allocated $303.8 billion to the Veterans Administration in 2023, compared to $1.7 billion to the Office of Refugee Resettlement and $913.6 million for the entire U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services department.  

Another variant of this myth is that U.S. values dictate that it should not do anything to help refugees and asylum seekers until it has helped all underserved U.S. Veterans. 

  • This ignores the important facts that many veterans are themselves former immigrants and that immigrants have always been important contributors to U.S. military efforts.
  •  It is also counter to one of the key values our military fights to defend—that the U.S. is a defender of freedom and democracy and safe haven from repression and anti-democratic forces.  

• • •

Welcoming refugees and immigrants strengthens U.S. communities, our cultural diversity, our economy, our integrity as a defender of freedom, our global standing, and our unique identity as a pluralistic nation. Dispelling myths is an important way to make their pathways easier.  

Thank you for your interest in supporting refugees and immigrants in our community. Learn more about these issues by subscribing to our newsletter and following us on social media 


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