Challenging Myths about Immigrants and Immigration: A Seven-Part Series

Immigrants and immigration-related identities are among the many important stories of faculty, staff, and students in our diverse MC community. Thus this series seeks to challenge harmful myths surrounding immigrants and immigration, with each reflection focused on challenging a particular myth. Facts and statistics presented in the series come from a resource called “Common Myths about Immigrants and Immigration in Tennessee” that was developed by Allies of Knoxville’s Immigrant Neighbors (AKIN) and adapted by Blount County United (BCU) Education Committee and Blount County Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ). “Common Myths about Immigrants and Immigration in Tennessee,” 2011. 

Reflection by DR. FRANCES HENDERSON 

Fact #4: Immigrants do not take jobs away from US-born Americans, and they 

strengthen the economy.

“In fact, the US economy increasingly requires foreign, low-skilled workers, as the US-born workforce becomes older, better educated, and less willing to take these jobs. In 1960, half of all American men dropped out of high school and joined the low-skilled labor force; now the number is about 15% (Manhattan Institute). According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be 10 million unfilled jobs in the United States by 2010, primarily in low-wage service industries (Financial Times). A 2006 Texas study found that without undocumented workers, Texas would lose $17.7 billion of their gross state product every year (Texas Comptroller). Between 1990 and 2000, the foreign-born population of TN increased by 168%, and the unemployment rate decreased from 5.3% to 4.0% (US Census/TN Dept of Labor and Workforce Development). The TN Comptroller reported in August that “unauthorized aliens are not taking jobs or significantly affecting American workers’ wages” (TN Comptroller Report on immigration).”

Reflection

The myth that immigrants take jobs away from US-born Americans is one that is easy to accept and understand in times of economic downturn and prosperity, but it is often connected to moments of economic uncertainty. It is during these times of economic uncertainty, that people begin to worry if there is “enough” to go around. Enough social safety net to catch those of us who are struggling. Enough opportunities for our children. Enough jobs for all. However, for a number of reasons, many jobs remain unfilled in the US even in times of relative prosperity.

Many of these low skilled, low paying jobs are jobs that Americans don’t want to fill. As the fact above demonstrates, without documented workers, many industries and states would lose several billion dollars a year.

Beyond the fact that many of the jobs that undocumented immigrants fill are ones Americans don’t want to do, these workers’ labor remains invisible and taken for granted. Many run the risk of being underpaid or exploited as much of the work that they do happens in the shadows, at night or around the margins of Americans’ quotidian lives.

Nonetheless, without this labor our daily lives would look much different. Much of what is taken for granted, expected even as a matter of convenience, would be less convenient, unavailable or inaccessible without the labor of undocumented immigrants.

Equally as important, the fabric of American society would look much different without immigrants. Almost all of those who come here, documented or undocumented, like those who are American citizens, are in search of a better life an opportunity for themselves, their families and their children.

In order to achieve such, undocumented immigrants are willing to put in the work and help build strong communities of which they are a part.

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