Longtime Texas activist and executive director of Proyecto Azteca, Ann Williams Cass countered 11 myths about immigration and explained the benefits of immigration reform during her lecture as part of the 6th annual Social Justice Speaker Series.
Cass nullified popular immigration myths such as immigrants not paying taxes, only coming to the U.S. to take welfare, jobs and opportunities, sending all their money to their home country and their refusal to learn English or become Americans.
She countered by pointing out immigrants pay taxes every time they make a purchase in the U.S. and only come to reunite with family and work at jobs Americans do not want. Cass said within 10 years of arrival, 75 percent of immigrants can speak English fluently and more than 33 percent of immigrants become naturalized citizens.
In fact, Cass stated immigrants have actually benefited the American economy by about $10 billion annually because they arrive at a prime working age without previous tax dollars having been put into their education. She also pointed out that immigrants will contribute $500 billion to Social Security over the next two decades.
“A lot of undocumented immigrants make up a Social Security number and the Social Security department knows that,” she said.
The money they earn is then put into a special fund known as the “suspense file.” According to Cass, about $20 billion was placed into the fund between 1990 and 1998.
“That’s money that they are never going to get back. It’s money I’m going to get back,” she said.
Cass noted it has been common to blame weak border enforcement for the high number of undocumented immigrants. However, she said the true cause of this phenomenon is the strict, expensive and lengthy process of obtaining legal permanent residency or naturalization status.
“I keep hearing on the radio, ‘Why don’t they enter the right way? Why don’t they enter this country legally?’ Well, it’s not that easy,” she said.
According to Cass, there are simply not sufficient legal venues for immigrants to enter the country. For siblings of current U.S. citizens, the process of petitioning could take between 16 and 20 years. To earn legal permanent resident status, an immigrant must walk through three tiers: a visa costing $355, a work authorization and travel permit costing $1,010, as well as medical exams, fingerprints and identification pictures.
“It’s a really difficult process,” she emphasized. “So when you hear people say, ‘Well, why don’t people stand in line and do it the right way?’ It takes too long.”
An immigrant originally from Germany, Angelika Ruggia Kretzer said the European country allowed migrant workers to legally live and work in the country during the prosperous 1960s and 70s, and then return to their own countries with no penalties.
“If we in this country make this possible for the majority of people, I think we would find that many, many people would prefer to eventually go home to their extended families and their home country, which they still love,” Kretzer said.
Kretzer said she believes one of the myths of immigration is that immigrants wish to stay in America forever, a myth that she feels is very false. Kretzer herself had firsthand experience as a 20 year-old immigrant student who became a U.S. citizen after she met and married her husband.
“I can tell you with certainty that I had no intention of staying in America when I first came,” she said.
Cass stated the only solution to the immigration problem is comprehensive reform which would create a pathway to legal status for unauthorized immigrants and establish flexible limits on permanent and temporary immigration. In fact, she pointed out there is already a bill in the House of Representatives, known as the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity, which would do just that.
On a final note, Cass reminded students that immigrants, undocumented or legal, are human beings as well, and she encouraged them to befriend undocumented workers and learn their stories.
“Talk to them. Find out their story,” she said. “I think all the people who are talking about the undocumenteds have never talked to one, never found out how difficult it is for them to get here.”
Cass’s lecture, held Wednesday, Nov. 3, was the first of the 2010 Social Justice Speaker Series. The series is annually sponsored by the Southeastern Louisiana University Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice, as well as the Lyceum Arts and Lectures Committee and the Southeastern Sociological Association.