LatinaLista — As more and more towns join in the hysteria of proclaiming undocumented immigrants Public Enemy #1, it’s more and more obvious these politicians and citizens don’t want to know the people behind the label.
Who knows what would happen then?
Well, one University of South Carolina researcher thought it was time to get to know the people who were making her state one of the fastest growing destinations for undocumented Hispanic immigrants.
Dr. Elaine Lacy, research director for the Consortium for Latino Immigration Studies, delivered tonight the results of her two-year study on the Mexican immigrant population in South Carolina, titled “Mexican Immigrants to South Carolina: A Profile.”
When Dr. Lacy and her team of graduate students interviewed the 181 Mexican immigrants, ages 17 and up in 15 counties across North Carolina, they were surprised to learn a few things that, in essence, dispelled four common myths held about Latino immigrants.
Myth No. 1: Latino immigrants want to move to the United States permanently and will remain here unless they are forced to leave.
Lacy said 60 percent of Mexicans plan to return to Mexico, where they prefer to live. They were in the United States to earn money. Only 28 percent of Mexican immigrants indicated they want to remain in the United States and would do so only if family members were with them.
That’s no surprise finding to those of us of any Latino community in the nation. How arrogant some are to think that over 12 million people are so in love with another country that they would leave behind their children and loved ones.
It’s all about survival and working and earning money – and it always has been.
It was only when the U.S. government tried so hard to keep people out that they were actually keeping them in, and that is the reason why 12 million people are stuck in a political limbo because most have been here too long, unable to return home — and now home is on this side of the border.
Myth No. 2: Latino immigrants overuse public benefits and make little economic contribution.
Of the 181 immigrants interviewed, only four were unemployed. “They came here to work,” Lacy said. “They want to help with living expenses for family members in Mexico and to save money for housing, businesses and retirement in Mexico.”
Other than public education, the only other public service utilized was WIC, a Medicaid program available to qualifying families when their children are born in the United States. Only 15 percent of the families interviewed had children born in the U.S., but not all of those qualified for the WIC program.
Lacy said undocumented immigrants are ineligible for any public assistance, and approximately 70 percent of the Mexican immigrants interviewed were undocumented.
Again, what person in their right mind who is here illegally would put themselves on the public radar by applying for services they know they aren’t eligible for.
As painful as it is to say, further research warrants discovering if the majority of Latinos that people claim are taking advantage of public assistance are Latinos who are legal citizens.
The U.S. Census reports that 21.8 percent of Hispanics live in poverty and 32.7 percent lack health insurance. Common sense tells us those percentages are not all comprised from the undocumented population.
Myth No. 3: Latino immigrants refuse to learn English and do not want to assimilate into U.S. culture.
Nearly half the respondents said they were making efforts to learn English. One-quarter said they were taking formal English classes, while nearly an additional 25 percent said they were learning from purchased tapes, watching English television and reading English publications. Lacy said 30 percent cited learning the language as the biggest need of the Mexican community.
This myth is so easy to prove false in any community in the nation by just picking up the phone and calling those churches and organizations that offer English classes.
In Texas, these classes routinely have waiting lists. The same is being reported throughout the country. The undocumented want to learn English. Some are shier than others in trying to speak it, but the desire is there and was there when the decision was first made to come to this country.
Myth No. 4: Many immigrants are criminals who have no respect for the law.
Only two of the 181 interviewed reported any problems with law enforcement. Both cases were related to driving without a license. Lacy said many immigrants said they admired Americans for their belief in, and respect, for the law.
And who wouldn’t when all they’ve known are corrupt law enforcement officials who will do anything for money?
Dr. Lacy discovered other information that was a surprise to her and her team but sadly have been known to the rest of us: there is a high incidence of depression among the undocumented because of the separation from their families and the stress of living in the United States.
Most of the undocumented live below or at the poverty level by earning $20,000 a year, don’t have health insurance and live in overcrowded, sub-standard housing.
But perhaps the biggest revelation from Dr. Lacy’s research that she fails to mention is that the undocumented, for all that they suffer, still have the ganas to keep going – and that says something about the human spirit.