Opinion: May Day Myth-Busting


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Like couples who renew wedding vows or costumed history nerds who re-fight Revolutionary War battles, immigration protestors will mark the anniversary of a major march by reenacting it. Hundreds of thousands of marchers are expected to show up in downtown Los Angeles tomorrow to repeat the call for immigrant rights. In the spirit of reenactment, we’d like to do some reposting.

The power of the Internet (and the compulsion of many Internet users to forward anything marked ‘forward’ that lands in their inboxes) has kept a list of mostly incorrect immigration myths in circulation for over a year. Because many of these myths had been attributed to The Times, this blog debunked them in two earlier posts. Now we present them again below, hopefully preempting any flurry of email-forwarding that may follow tomorrow’s protest.


Here’s what we posted on Feb. 5:

‘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. [UPDATE: A new study (pdf) points out that immigrants -- legal and illegal -- have lower incarceration rates than native-born residents.]

‘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.

And what we posted last year, shortly after the first May 1 protests (some of these links may no longer be in working order):

‘Fact’ 1: 40% of all workers in L.A. County (L.A. County has 10 million people) are working for cash and not paying taxes. This was because they are predominantly illegal immigrants, working without a green card.
LAT citations: None.
Factual basis: The Economic Roundtable, a research outfit affiliated with the Los Angeles County government, concluded in a December 2005 report [PDF] that the low-end estimate for LA County workers working for cash is 322,400 and the high end is 972,500 in 2000. From this, the Economic Roundtable paper extrapolates a mid-range 2004 estimate of 679,000, or 15% of the workforce. (Note that the total workforce of Los Angeles County is about 4.5 million, while the total population is closer to 10 million.)

‘Fact’ 2: 95% of warrants for murder in Los Angeles are for illegal aliens.
LAT citations: May 15, 2005 — ‘According to Heather MacDonald of the Manhattan Institute, 95% of the hundreds of outstanding homicide warrants (and 60% of outstanding felony warrants) in L.A. are for illegal immigrants.’
Similar citations: January 19, 2004
Factual basis: An outstanding warrant is quite a different beast than a regular warrant, so this ‘fact’ left out the key word. We did some more checking on the outstanding warrants point itself. MacDonald stated this in a 2004 City Journal article, and in testimony before the House of Representatives in spring 2005, noting that this came to 1,200-1,500 warrants. One LAPD officer cited the same factoid in the National Review earlier this year, saying that it’s specific to ‘the first half of 2004’. But Jane Robison, press secretary for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, told us that the D.A. does not keep track of this number; a representative with Detective Headquarters said the same.

‘Fact’ 3: 75% of people on the Most Wanted List in Los Angeles are illegal aliens.
LAT citations: None.
Factual basis: We can’t locate such a fact anywhere. The Los Angeles Police Department’s most wanted list contains a number of people with unknown or obscured identities, suggesting that tallying the legal status of everyone on the list would be very difficult if not impossible. Ditto for the FBI’s most-wanted list.


‘Fact’ 4: Over 2/3’s of all births in Los Angeles County are to illegal alien Mexicans on Medi-Cal whose births were paid for by taxpayers.
LAT citations: Jan. 15, 1999 — ‘As many as 70,000 illegal immigrants a year use state-funded prenatal services.’ (Similar citations: Jan. 14, 1999, June 12, 1998, March 6, 1998, Jan. 30, 1998, Jan. 4, 1998, Dec. 18, 1997, Aug. 26, 1997, July 10, 1997, Feb. 6, 1997, Nov. 13, 1996, Nov. 5, 1996, Nov. 2, 1996, OCt. 24, 1996, Oct. 17, 1996)
Feb. 14, 1999 — ‘Two-thirds of all births here are to foreign-born mothers.’ (Similar citation: July 25, 2004 — ‘40% of the births in California are to foreign-born women.’)
July 7, 1998 — ‘[Rep. Elton] Gallegly [(R-Simi Valley)] cited a 1990-91 Los Angeles County study that showed that two-thirds of the women giving birth in public hospitals were undocumented.’ (Similar citations: Oct. 2, 1995, July 19, 1995, June 11, 1995, Jan. 27, 1995, Nov. 21, 1993, Sept. 13, 1993, Aug. 17, 1993, Aug. 1, 1993, May 28, 1992, Apr. 2, 1992, Oct. 26, 1991, Oct. 24, 1991)
Factual basis: None of these citations establishes the ‘fact’ above. According to the California Department of Health Services, 158,782 babies were born in L.A. County in 2001 (these are the most recent statistics available online). Of these, 99,089 were to Hispanic mothers. That’s just under 2/3 — 62.4% for all Hispanic moms, which would include legal and undocumented mothers from Mexico as well as other countries.

‘Fact’ 5: Nearly 25% of all inmates in California detention centers are Mexican nationals here illegally.
LAT citations: May 1, 2005, in an op-ed by Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Col.) — ‘More than 10% of the inmates in U.S. jails and prisons are illegal aliens, and in California it is more than 20%.’
July 11, 2004 — ‘Each year, the [Los Angeles] County Jail system processes about 170,000 inmates, and federal officials estimate that a fourth of them are illegal immigrants. But with just a fraction of the foreign-born being questioned, officials say it is impossible to know exactly how many illegal immigrants are in the system and how much the county should receive in federal compensation.’ (Similar citations for Riverside County, Apr. 12, 2006; Anaheim city, Nov. 5, 1997, June 27, 1996; Los Angeles County, Jan. 25, 1996, Jan. 15, 1996, July 10, 1995, May 23, 1995; state and county, Nov. 27, 1993, June 1, 1993, Oct. 19, 1992, Oct. 6, 1992, Aug. 4, 1992, Aug. 18, 1991, Dec. 16, 1990, Dec. 4, 1985)
Factual basis: The 25% figure could be approximately correct for state and federal prisons in California, or correct for county, at least as of 2004. But ‘detention centers’ is an extremely broad term that could include all juvenile detention facilities, federal prisons, state prisons, and county jails in California’s 58 counties — making this figure very tough to come by. The San Francisco Chronicle offered a lower figure for state prisons on May 4: ‘Of the nearly 171,000 inmates crowding state prisons, 22,478, or about 13 percent as of March 31, are undocumented immigrants or are suspected of being undocumented.’ The Federation for American Immigration Reform, a group in favor of reducing immigration, offers a lower figure for L.A. County jails: ‘Deportable aliens comprise 11% of the Los Angeles County jail population costing the county an estimated $75 million a year.’

‘Fact’ 6: Over 300,000 illegal aliens in Los Angeles County are living in garages.
LAT citations: Jan. 31, 1994 — ‘As many as 100,000 families in Los Angeles County are believed to be living in bootlegged apartments or illegally converted garages.’
May 24, 1987 — ‘A systematic survey by The Times indicates that about 42,000 garages are sheltering about 200,000 people in Los Angeles County.’ (Similar citations: Apr. 3, 1989)
Factual basis: None of these estimates makes clear who among those taking shelter in garages are in the country illegally. No comment so far from county offices. One City of Los Angeles representative said that the last tally was done over five years ago, and found 50,000 to 70,000 illegally converted units in the city of Los Angeles, out of about 800,000 residences.

‘Fact’ 7: The FBI reports half of all gang members in Los Angeles are most likely illegal aliens from south of the border.
LAT citations: May 15, 2005, in an op-ed by attorney Carol Platt Liebau — ‘Of the membership of the notorious 18th Street gang, estimated at 20,000, fully 60% are illegal aliens, according to a 1995 report by the state Department of Justice.’ (Similar citations: Jan. 19, 2004, March 25, 2000, June 11, 1997, Dec. 17, 1996, Nov. 21, 1996, Nov. 17, 1996)
Factual basis: Heather MacDonald of Manhattan Institute stated that ‘No one knows for certain the percentage of illegals in gangs, thanks in large part to sanctuary laws themselves.’ She does offer some statistics in the City Journal:

A confidential California Department of Justice study reported in 1995 that 60 percent of the 20,000-strong 18th Street Gang in southern California is illegal; police officers say the proportion is actually much greater. [...] The leadership of the Columbia Lil’ Cycos gang, which uses murder and racketeering to control the drug market around L.A.’s MacArthur Park, was about 60 percent illegal in 2002, says former assistant U.S. attorney Luis Li.

Even if you accept the 18th Street Gang estimates, which would be notoriously difficult to determine with accuracy, that’s just one gang in a city where several prominent gangs — including the Crips, Bloods and Aryan Nation — are not largely comprised of immigrants, at least not from ‘south of the border.’


‘Fact’ 8: Nearly 60% of all occupants of HUD properties are illegal.
LAT citations: None.
Factual basis: No comment yet from HUD, and the only statistic we found online is at FAIR, and it is for only the state of California:

The state Housing and Community Development department has prepared new screening rules based on the welfare reform legislation adopted by Congress in 1996 that would ban illegal aliens from public housing programs. The HCD estimates that as many as 5 percent of 25,000 housing units could be affected.

‘Fact’ 9: 21 radio stations in L.A. are Spanish speaking.
LAT citations: None in the last 10 years.
Factual basis: Estimates vary by source: one website lists 15 Spanish stations out of 78, another lists 18 out of 83.

‘Fact’ 10: In L.A. County, 5.1 million people speak English. 3.9 million speak Spanish (10.2 million people in L.A.County).
LAT citations: None.
Factual basis: The Census reports that as of the year 2004, 3.9 million people in L.A. County speak only English at home; 3.7 million speak primarily Spanish at home.