Checking Lockman’s facts on immigration

Robert W. Glover, University of Maine

Representative Larry Lockman’s recent opinion piece in the Bangor Daily News was a racially-charged collection of misinformation and half-truths. Seriously, I would encourage anyone who thinks the United States has a policy of “open borders” to have coffee with someone who has navigated the labyrinth that is the American immigration system. I suspect they’ll tell you otherwise.

At a time when Maine faces serious demographic and economic challenges, our elected officials should be thoughtfully considering solutions to move our state forward. Many thoughtful and reasonable state political leaders are doing just that. With his recent article, Representative Lockman has once again shown that he is not one of them.

Lockman closed his piece with the words “let the debate begin.” Below I present some evidence that I hope can enrich that debate.

Most economists agree that a hardline approach towards immigration would lead to a recession comparable to what we experienced in 2008-2009.

Representative Lockman calls for, among other things, a moratorium on immigration and the suspension of state funding for social services and education to cities that limit the extent to which local police and officials work with the federal government to enforce immigration policy.

Two important counter-points. Most economists agree that extreme policy measures such as moratoriums on immigration, large-scale round ups of undocumented immigrants, mass deportation, and the like would produce a recession. For instance, a report by a free-market economist at the American Action Forum predicted that such measures would cost upwards of $400 billion dollars and that our nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) would shrink by 5.7% (for comparison, the 2008-2009 financial collapse saw GDP shrink by 6.3%).

Our nation’s workforce and economy require a certain degree of foreign-born labor. The key lies in getting the immigration system right to provide such workers, not by racking up millions of dollars in government spending and engaging in rapid, debilitating shocks to the American economy to rectify past inaction.

Furthermore, Lockman paints with too broad a brush when he implies that municipalities opt out of enforcing immigration policy for humanitarian reasons. Some do, but not all.

Many local officials and law enforcement officers argue that their ability to do their jobs serving their communities would be hampered if they were viewed as an extension of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Others worry about administrative capacity, fearing that their already limited resources would be stretched to the breaking point if they were also to become charged with helping to enforce federal immigration policy.

Immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than those who are born in the United States.

The anecdotal evidence that Lockman cites about ties to criminality or terrorism references the exception, not the norm. Generalizing about entire categories of people on the basis of such exceptions is the height of irresponsibility and makes for very bad public policy.

The bottom line is that immigrants engage in criminal behavior at significantly lower rates than Americans. Reams of empirical research back up the finding that though many immigrants may have broken the law to come here, once in the society they drive down overall crime rates, rather than producing the waves of lawlessness Representative Lockman seems to think exist.

Research shows that Muslims support violence in lower rates than most Christians.

Significant attention is devoted to the alleged support of Muslims for fanaticism and extremist violence. Representative Lockman cites a figure from the Pew Research Center, suggesting that 19% of Muslims would at least sometimes support violence against civilians. That is indeed a troubling statistic.

What is perhaps more troubling is the fact that when Gallup asked a very similar question in a recent poll, 26% of Protestants and 27% of Catholics expressed that such violence is sometimes justified. In fact, Muslims generally condone violence at lower rates than nearly every other major religion in the United States.

Generally speaking, immigrants aren’t a drain on welfare spending. They help keep such systems viable.

Despite the many years of rhetoric about immigrants as a drain on welfare spending, evidence suggests that the American welfare system would be untenable without their financial contributions. Welfare reforms over the last few decades have made it harder and harder for immigrants to draw benefits. Yet a majority of undocumented immigrants have income taxes, Social Security, and Medicare automatically deducted from their earnings. Studies have suggested that immigrant contributions to federal and state revenue outstrip what they draw in benefits by anywhere between $20 billion to $85 billion a year.

I don’t mean to deny that Maine, and indeed the United States, needs a serious conversation about policies towards immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. Such consideration has never been more vital. However, Maine will be much better poised to think about its future when we start from a place of sober and serious attention to evidence. Our elected leaders owe us that much.

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