In crafting my novels in the Haunted Shores Mysteries series, I invested a considerable amount of time and energy researching the different elements of the tales. For example, in addition to researching the customs, foods and people of each resort area, I had to learn how to manage a sailboat (I‘d never sailed) or how to swim with manatees (a whole new experience) or about the details of Victorian architecture (I didn’t have a clue).
And don’t get me started on everything I’ve researched about ghosts.
But each of the novels also deals with a pressing social concern, racial injustice in BLOOD and human trafficking in CRIMSON. In each case, I found I had a good deal to learn about the topic before I could incorporate it faithfully in my storytelling. For my newest release, SCARLET AT CRYSTAL RIVER, the theme of my story hits on another hot topic today—immigration.
Before I completed my research on this issue, I discovered I had a number of misconceptions about immigration in America—and I found out I’m hardly alone. I tried to address a few of these misconceptions in the story and readers have shared positive feedback about my handling of this issue.
Since this is Hispanic Heritage Month—and since the migrants in my story are Latino—I thought I’d share a few of the most common misconceptions Americans hold about immigration, especially Hispanic immigrants.
1. Immigrants are out to steal American jobs. Research studies looking at both documented and undocumented immigration reveal there is no basis for this belief. First, the jobs immigrants are most likely to “take” are those American workers do not want or will not perform. For example, the immigrant family in my story are migrant workers who move with the crops from farm to farm, from area to area. The pay is low and the working conditions are poor. (In fact, migrant agricultural work is one of the most dangerous in the U.S.) Immigrants have these jobs because most Americans don’t want them.
Also, a study done in Colorado revealed that for every job an undocumented worker holds, another .8 jobs are created, probably because of the additional money in the local economy.
2. Most immigrants only come to America for the benefits.
This is a major one, often pushed by politicians with an agenda. You’ll hear some candidate harangue about immigrants getting Medicaid or food stamps or welfare. But here are the facts. Illegal immigrants are barred from getting these “freebies” and even legal immigrants cannot collect them until at least five years, and only after they become naturalized citizens. The truth is that most immigrants—documented and undocumented—only come to this country in search of a better life and a dependable job, pretty much like our grandfathers or great grandfathers. Or to escape danger or violence.
3. Immigrants are dangerous and commit more crimes than citizens.
Just turn on the TV and you’ll likely hear a story about an immigrant involved in assault or burglary or worse. (If it bleeds, it leads.) This could not be further from the truth. In an analysis of data from the 2000 and 2010 census (2020 data are not available yet) natives are two to five times more likely to be incarcerated than immigrants (3.5% for natives vs. .7% for immigrants and 3.3%/natives vs. 1.6%/immigrants). The reality is that immigrants are far less likely to commit any crime.
4. Immigrants just don’t want to learn English. The complaint goes like this: immigrants want us to learn their language (often Spanish) or have interpreters everywhere. Studies paint a very different picture. Most immigrants desperately want to learn English, so much so the supply of ESL (English as a Second Language) classes cannot keep with the demand. And English is one of the hardest languages in the world for a non-native speaker to learn, a fact that few native speakers can appreciate. Further, studies reveal a mere 7% of second generation Latinos continue to speak Spanish as their main language. 93% use English as their primary language in their homes and with their families.
5. Undocumented immigrants don’t pay taxes and burden the economy. Again, there is no truth to this contention. Immigrants pay taxes in a wide variety of ways from sales tax to local taxes to social security to state taxes.
A 2017 study conducted by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy reported undocumented immigrants paid $11.74 billion in taxes that year. A similar analysis by the Social Security Administration estimated that undocumented immigrants (and their employers) paid $13 billion in social security taxes in one year. And remember, although non-natives can receive limited benefits like public education and emergency medical assistance, immigrants and especially undocumented immigrants do not receive most of the services these same taxes pay for.
6. It’s easy to enter this country legally. My ancestors did; why can’t immigrants today? Unless we’re descended from Native Americans, we are all descendants of immigrants.
But if our ancestors arrived on these shores say more than 100 years ago, what they needed to do was way different than today. For the first century, America had “an open admission policy.” If you could get here, you could stay. Today, the immigration process is so rigorous, has so many rules and takes so long (often 8-10 years) that it is a mountain too high for many aspiring to become Americans. In fact, many of our ancestors who emigrated here between 1790 and 1924 would not be admitted under today’s system. For many, it is not easy and is often impossible to enter this country legally.
None of this—or my story in SCARLET—is trying to argue that the immigration situation isn’t problematic. It is strewn with problems, issues and challenges and I don’t pretend to have the answers. But we can all start by correcting the common misconceptions about immigration and dealing with the reality, not some presumed paranoia, in coming to consensus. I believe only then—and by remembering we all came to this country as immigrants—can we arrive at some real solutions.