my great-grandparents on one side of the family and great-great-grandparents on the other side were immigrants. their story is simple and familiar: they came for a better life. for a chance. one pair came from mexico and after settling here, they started a farm and my great-great-grandmother was also a legendary midwife. on the other side, my great-grandfather came from eastern europe to escape hardships brought on by the czar, eventually founding a business (ironically for me — the vegan — a butcher shop). my family faced a number of hardships and discrimination that are unimaginable to me today, but firmly believed that their life would be better here in the us. they assimilated so much that my grandparents and parents only spoke english.
while my family came here legally, obviously others are not so lucky. the backlash against this group, who i've heard referred to as the only ones who may still believe in the american dream, is distressing. in fact, my immediate family is on the right of this issue, which confounds me.
this monday, 1 may, in addition to being international workers' day, is a one-day protest called the great american boycott 2006, endorsed by california's state senators. show your support by participating in organized events or strike by following the call for "no work, no school, no sales, and no buying" and by wearing a white shirt.
i will be supporting this boycott because i believe firmly in the rights of all people, regardless from whence they came, to have a life that allows them to meet their basic needs — and many of ours. i believe in the contribution of our immigrants (including these women and albert einstein), and i am thankful for all they do. finally, i do not believe that criminalizing immigrants is a solution.
i will say that the republican party has an amazing ability to promote inaccurate mythology surrounding illegal immigration. thankfully, the nonpartisan urban institute, which analyzes social, civic, and economic policies, seeks to set the record straight:
myth #1: undocumented immigrants come to the united states to get welfare.
undocumented men come to the united states almost exclusively to work. in 2003, over 90 percent of undocumented men worked—a rate higher than that for u.s. citizens or legal immigrants (passel, capps, and fix 2004). undocumented men are younger, less likely to be in school, and less likely to be retired than other men (capps et al. 2003). moreover, undocumented immigrants are ineligible for welfare, food stamps, medicaid, and most other public benefits (fix, zimmermann, and passel 2001).
myth #2: undocumented immigrants all crossed the mexican border.
between 60 and 75 percent of the more than 10 million undocumented immigrants entered illegally and without inspection—mostly across the mexican border. the other 25 to 40 percent entered legally and subsequently overstayed visas or otherwise violated the terms of their admission (passel 2005).
myth #3: undocumented immigrants are all single men.
over 40 percent of undocumented adults are women, and the majority (54 percent) of undocumented men live in married couples or other families (passel 2005). fewer than half of undocumented men are single and unattached.
myth #4: most children of the undocumented are unauthorized.
in fact, two-thirds of all children with undocumented parents (about 3 million) are u.s.-born citizens who live in mixed-status families.
myth #5: a large share of schoolchildren are undocumented.
nationally in 2000, only 1.5 percent of elementary schoolchildren (enrolled in kindergarten through 5th grade) and 3 percent of secondary children (grades 6-12) were undocumented. slightly higher shares—5 percent in elementary and 4 percent in secondary schools—had undocumented parents.
myth #6: undocumented immigrants do not pay taxes.
undocumented immigrants pay the same real estate taxes—whether they own homes or taxes are passed through to rents—and the same sales and other consumption taxes as everyone else. the majority of state and local costs of schooling and other services are funded by these taxes. additionally, the u.s. social security administration has estimated that three quarters of undocumented immigrants pay payroll taxes, and that they contribute $6-7 billion in social security funds that they will be unable to claim (porter 2005).
photo credit: mr. mipmup.