While Misinformed Opponents of Immigration Stall Reform, Change Begins at the Local Level

"They're taking our jobs" is a common argument made by opponents of immigration. However, this and many other assumptions about immigrants -- that they negatively impact the labor market, that they cause higher incidences of crime and poverty, that they strain the economy -- are based on logical fallacy. In fact, when put to the test, many arguments against immigration quickly crumble.

Despite this, attempts at comprehensive federal immigration reform under this administration seem futile at best. However, local movements, particularly in New York City, are attempting to change the tide through city- and state-wide programs and reforms, and will hopefully be successful in shifting public opinion on immigration reform.

A report released on Thursday by the Americas Society/ Council on the Americas presents compelling statistics and arguments that demonstrate just the opposite of many assumptions about the negative impact of immigration on U.S. communities and economies. Using New York City as an example, the study and presentation, which featured well-reputed policy analysts, social scientists, business leaders and local government officials, aimed to prove that in fact, immigrants create jobs, present lower crime rates, and are a crucial force in city revitalization.

Beyond the automatic, xenophobic assumption that immigrant neighborhoods are dangerous neighborhoods is the fact that police precincts with the highest immigrant populations report the lowest incidence of crime. For every 1 percent increase in a precinct's population due to immigration, an average of 966 fewer crimes are committed each year. And when newly arrived immigrants rent in less-desirable neighborhoods, they bolster housing values, creating business and family-owned cooperatives where otherwise vacancy and crime may have developed.

When immigrant revitalization results in the revitalization of depressed and high-crime areas, the issue of gentrification is complicated. Economic development in immigrant neighborhoods can have both positive and damaging effects for both immigrants and low- and middle-income residents. Wealthy surveyors want to build luxury housing, while community movements and local government wants to ensure that such buildings won't drive out immigrant communities. Councilperson Carlos Menchaca of Sunset Park, Brooklyn, pointed to potentially more inclusive opportunities for industrial development that may include the immigrant community rather than drive them out. Job development opportunities with fewer barriers, like universities or technology start-ups, which promote innovation and growth -- for both immigrants and native-born citizens alike.

Meanwhile, as Professor Jacob Vigdor pointed out to applause, a simple test of logic suffices to say that if there are more people in a neighborhood, there will be more jobs. If we were to kick out every immigrant from the United States, there would not magically be twice as many jobs. As immigrants arrive, they create more need for services, thus creating more jobs in every sector from food service to international finance. Even the people who ignorantly complain about the lack of jobs due to immigrants would probably not function without them.

Despite the clear benefits of increased immigration, government entities blatantly continue to pursue punitive policies against immigrants. Laws like Secure Communities, given the statistics about reduced crime rates in immigrant neighborhoods, are making cities less, not more, secure. A lack of papers does not preclude undocumented immigrants from contributing to the positive impact of immigration, and detaining them alongside criminals and tearing them away from their families seems as illogical as it is inhumane.

Local movements in New York City and other cities are championing a "sea change," both in how we view immigration and the policies cities around the United States are adopting -- even while federal policy remains at a standstill. Districts like Menchaca's advocate for participatory budgeting, and City Commissioner Nisha Agarwal and the Office of Immigration Affairs aim to instate municipal ID cards that would replace the need for immigrants to prove their legal status. The hope of many immigration experts is that building a movement from the local and state level will eventually cause a paradigm shift to finally garner support and affect change at the federal level.

A paradigm shift is exactly what's needed to propel support for immigration as a federal priority. That means not just changing our opinions on issues, but changing the way we think about them. Facing the facts and challenging assumptions about immigration on the local level is only the first step.