Some memes never die

Los Angeles Times | February 05, 2007

Despite our sound debunking last spring of ten "facts" on immigration sourced to The Times, the list still makes the occasional blog post and e-mail round, and, as it did last month, sometimes ends up in the inbox of a Times editor. New and just as wrong "facts" and assorted rants (worrying, say, about the Emperor of Japan taking advantage of affirmative action programs) have glommed on to the original list of ten, meaning it's time for myth-busting, round two.

"Fact" 1: Less than two percent of illegal aliens are picking our crops, but 29% are on welfare.
Factual basis? Pew Hispanic Center found last year that four percent of illegal immigrants work in farming (compared to 0.5% of the native population). Most illegal immigrants work in services (31%) or construction (19%). Illegal immigrants are generally barred from receiving welfare (they can access emergency medical care and a K-12 education). The tough-on-illegal-immigration think tank Center for Immigration Studies reports in 2004:

In terms of welfare use, receipt of cash assistance programs tends to be very low, while Medicaid use, though significant, is still less than for other households. Only use of food assistance programs is significantly higher than that of the rest of the population. 
CIS goes on to state that, on balance, illegal immigrants take more in services than they pay in taxes, but that is disputed

"Fact" 2: Over 70% of the U.S.’ annual population growth and over 90% in CA, FL, and NY results from immigration. 
Factual Basis? The Census Bureau estimates that from July 2005 to July 2006, population increased by 2,891,423 in the U.S. Immigration accounts for 1,204,167 people, or 42%. 
California’s population increased by 303,402 people; 266,295 or 88% were immigrants. 

Florida saw an increase of 321,697 people, including 99,754 immigrants, who make 31% of the total. New York’s total population decreased by 9,538.

"Fact" 3: The cost of immigration to the American taxpayer in 1997 was (after subtracting taxes immigrants pay) a net $70 billion a year (Professor Donald Huddle, Rice University). The lifetime fiscal impact (taxes paid minus services used) for the average adult Mexican immigrant is a negative number.
Factual Basis? Huddle has conducted several such studies, though we can’t confirm a $70 billion cost. Huddle does, however, estimate that immigrants cost the U.S. tens of billions of dollars a year. In his 1997 study he estimates that the 1996 cost was $24.44 billion.  Huddle's figures are disputed, and other organizations, notably the Urban Institute, claim immigrants are a net benefit to the country. The discrepancy — which would also arise in any discussion of lifetime fiscal impact — comes from cherry-picking data. The Urban Institute, for example, includes Social Security taxes paid; Huddle includes estimates for native-born children of immigrants. (For a side-by-side comparison of an early Huddle study and Urban Institute research, see here.)

"Fact" 4: 29% of inmates in federal prisons are illegal aliens. 
Factual Basis? Thirty seven percent of inmates in federal prisons are noncitizens, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The number of them that are illegal immigrants isn’t offered by the Bureau, though they do note that 10% of the offenses are immigration-related.

"Fact" 5: According to the Los Angeles Times, Orange County, California is home to 275 gangs with 17,000 members, 98% of which are Mexican and Asian. 
Factual Basis? The Times has not printed these figures. On June 8, 1994, a Times story did state that Orange County had 275 gangs with 17,000 members, of which 85% were Latino. It did not specify how many of that group were Mexican, nor how many were Asian.