Myths, lies and books about immigration


The American public is being subjected to a bombardment of slander and lies about our immigrant neighbors. TV personalities like Lou Dobbs and Bill O’Reilly, as well as radio talk show hosts, right-wing newspapers and Internet web sites and blogs, vie with each other to make up the most terrifying stories about crazed immigrants bringing crime, disease, poverty and terrorism.

It is hard to keep up with such a bombardment. So activists and the general public will be glad to hear that there are two new book-length resources to refute the anti-immigrant slander campaign. “The Politics of Immigration: Questions and Answers,” by Jane Guskin and David L. Wilson, and “‘They Take Our Jobs’ and 20 Other Myths About Immigration,” by Aviva Chomsky, are essential reading.

The two books have a similar approach — enumerating anti-immigrant lies and then refuting them with solid factual information — but they are different enough that it is worth reading them both.

Guskin and Wilson give a brief but complete and well-researched orientation to the issue of immigration as it affects U.S. workers and the general public.

They start by outlining the roots of current mass immigration in imperialism and capitalist globalization, with a special focus on Mexico, where NAFTA and other neoliberal trade and credit agreements have driven 1.5 million farm families off the land. They then give us an outline of immigration law, stressing those points which are most often misrepresented by the anti-immigrant lobby. For example, they take on the widespread myth of the “anchor babies.”

According to right- wing commentators, an immigrant will come here (undocumented) to have a baby, knowing that under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution the child will be a citizen, and then the parents will be able to get legal status or citizenship through the child. In fact, this does not work. A child cannot sponsor his or her own parents for a green card. Every year, thousands of parents of U.S. citizen children are deported either for being undocumented (like Elvira Arellano) or for some other reason.

Another interesting fact of which most people are totally unaware is that under a 1990 law, it became possible for very wealthy people in other countries to essentially buy legal resident visas by investing at least $1 million into a U.S. business and creating at least 10 jobs for U.S. citizens.

Ten thousand such visas are available every year, twice as many as the visas given for unskilled laborers in 2005. (In 1985 there was a controversy when the Reagan administration “expedited” the U.S. citizenship of Australian media mogul Rupert Murdoch, an action which made possible the Fox TV empire.) Yet there is no practical way in which most of the millions of Mexicans left destitute in the wake of NAFTA can get a visa.

Guskin and Wilson then tackle other myths about documented and undocumented immigrants, from taxes to overburdened schools, disease, language, crime and terrorism.

Aviva Chomsky’s book does some of the same myth-busting work, but goes into some more specific detail on important issues such as the relationship of immigration law and policy to race relations.

Readers will not be surprised to hear that an underlying principle of U.S. immigration policy for most of our history has been to keep the United States “white.” What may surprise some is that until World War I, white European immigrants could simply decide to come here and do it. The only impediment (and the function of places like Ellis Island) was that the government tried to weed out the sick and criminals. And the Border Patrol on the U.S./Mexico frontier only came into being in 1924. Before that, lots of people just came on over.

Chomsky is particularly helpful on a brief summary and comparison of the situation of Puerto Ricans and Filipinos. These two island nations share the characteristic of having the largest proportion of their citizens living and working in the United States at any one time (far more, proportionally, than Mexico). Chomsky points out the negative effect of the constant “brain drain” of Filipina nurses on Filipino society.

Both books take a forthright position in favor of legalization with full rights for the undocumented (not guest worker schemes), but they both also emphasize that we must fight against the U.S. government and corporate policies that so disrupt the poorer countries’ development as to force millions to uproot themselves and emigrate merely to survive and support their families.

They Take Our Jobs’ and 20 Other Myths About Immigration
By Aviva Chomsky
Beacon Press
Softcover, 264 pp., $14

The Politics of Immigration: Questions and Answers
By Jane Guskin and David L. Wilson
Monthly Review Press
Softcover, 144 pp., $11.95