Dispelling pervasive myths about immigrants (Part 2)

American misconceptions about immigrants are as old as the nation itself. This misinformation can reinforce hateful rhetoric or inspire discriminatory acts against immigrants and result in misinformed policies that are unhelpful at best and harmful at worst. 

This report dispels four standout myths being spread by Texas officials to foster a more informed and constructive dialogue on immigration policy that is grounded in reality rather than partisan, hateful rhetoric.

MYTH: Most of the fentanyl entering the U.S. is smuggled in by unauthorized migrants crossing the border illegally. 

It is not uncommon for Gov. Gregg Abbott and other Texas officials to pair the fentanyl crisis with illegal border crossings; this has been one major  justification for Operation Lone Star

FACT: Most of the fentanyl entering the U.S. is smuggled through official ports of entry by people legally authorized to cross the border.

According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), one of the federal agencies tasked with disrupting the flow of illicit fentanyl, the dominant model of fentanyl trafficking is as follows: cartels, primarily the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco Cartel, purchase chemicals from companies in China, mass produce the fentanyl in Mexico, and then traffic and distribute finished fentanyl throughout the U.S. 

During a 2023 U.S. House Subcommittee Hearing on Border Security and Enforcement, James Mandryck with the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol’s (USCBP) Office of Intelligence testified that 90% of hard drugs (fentanyl, heroin, methamphetamine) seized are at authorized ports of entry. The vast majority of opioids seized between ports of entry are seized at vehicle checkpoints. The majority of fentanyl seizures, both by weight and individual encounters, are from U.S. citizens. Lastly, George Papadopoulos with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) confirmed that the overwhelming majority of those convicted for smuggling fentanyl are U.S. citizens. 

An analysis by the Cato Institute found that in 2023 just 0.009% of the people arrested by USCBP for illegal crossing possessed any fentanyl whatsoever. If they did possess fentanyl, they had, on average, half as much fentanyl as a person arrested at ports of entry. The same report also analyzed U.S. Sentencing Commission data and found that in 2022, 89% of persons convicted of federal trafficking crimes were U.S. citizens compared to just 7.3% for illegal immigrants. 

It is appalling that tens of thousands of lives  are lost each year from fentanyl, but the responsibility does not lie with immigrants crossing between ports of entry, many of whom are seeking asylum. For this reason, cracking down on illegal border crossings is unlikely to reduce fentanyl trafficking. From a law enforcement perspective, there are some useful tools that the federal government is employing, such as non-intrusive inspection equipment, artificial intelligence, and more, to prevent these drugs from crossing our geographic borders.

It is also important to note that like immigration, drug trafficking is a global issue. It requires a partnership between state and federal government to treat the addiction that fuels the demand for fentanyl and relationships with international governments to dismantle transnational criminal organizations. 

MYTH: There is an “invasion” at the border. 

Gov. Abbott has regularly referenced an “invasion” to describe activities at the Texas-Mexico border. Even state legislators filed bills filled this past 88th Legislative Session that allowed the Governor to declare an “invasion” at the border, such as HB 20 by Rep. Schaefer, which was killed on the House floor by a point of order. 

FACT: There is no invasion. Misusing the term encourages extremist actions and undermines constitutional precedent.

Politically, describing immigration as an “invasion” rallies right-wing voters and further rationalizes discriminatory actions and taxpayer-wasting policies. After the racially motivated mass shooting in El Paso that left 23 people dead, Gov. Abbott “emphasized the importance of making sure that rhetoric will not be used in any dangerous way.”However, his “invasion” rhetoric continues. Just last month, the FBI intercepted a plot by three out-of-state men to kill Border Patrol agents and immigrants at the Texas-Mexico border because they believed the country was being invaded. 

There are three major ongoing cases in which the state argues that immigrants crossing the U.S. border illegally constitute an “invasion” under U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause in Article I, Section 10, Clause 3

Buoys Case 
(United States of America v. Texas: 1:23-cv-00853-DAE)

The Department of Justice (DOJ) sued Texas over the placement of buoys in the Rio Grande, alleging violations of the Rivers and Harbors Act and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. U.S. District Judge David A. Ezra granted the DOJ’s motion for a preliminary injunction to order the State to remove the buoys. A panel of the 5th Circuit Court upheld this in a 2-1 decision. 

What’s next? 
In May, the entire 5th Circuit will reconsider the State’s preliminary injunction appeal. In March, the State’s Motion to Dismiss will be heard. In August, the bench trial is set to begin. 
Razor Wire Case
(Texas v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security: 2:23-cv-00055-AM)

Texas sued the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), alleging violations of State and federal law related to DHS cutting concertina wire. The Supreme Court refused to grant the State’s motion for a preliminary injunction to order the federal government to stop removing the wire. 

What’s next? 
The case will return to the District Court in March, where various actions may occur, such as the case continuing, adjustments to the preliminary injunction, or the judge making preliminary determinations on certain issues.
SB 4 Case
(U.S. v. Texas & Las Americas, et al. v. McCraw, et al., consolidated: 1:24-cv-00008-DAE)

U.S. District Court Judge Ezra granted the federal government’s request for a preliminary injunction against SB 4, 88(3), halting its enforcement date of March 5, 2024. SB 4 would give state officials broad powers to arrest, prosecute and order the removal of people who illegally cross the border from Mexico. The State appealed to the 5th Circuit, which reversed the lower court’s ruling and allowed SB 4 to go into effect after a 7-day pause. 

What’s next? 
Yesterday, the Supreme Court extended the pause on SB 4 until March 13 while the justices decide how to proceed with the case.

Texas has also used Article IV, Section 4 of the Constitution that guarantees states federal protection against an “invasion” to justify state enforcement of immigration law. However, “invasion” under this section has generally been interpreted as an “armed hostility from another political entity, such as another state or foreign country that is intending to overthrow the state’s government”  as affirmed by Padavan v. United States, California v. United States, and New Jersey v. United States.  

Bottom line: Although precedent regarding what constitutes an “invasion” has been relatively stable, that could change. A win for the state’s “invasion” argument could increase states’ power to initiate acts of war and pave the way for a patchwork of immigration policies. 

MYTH: Immigrants, especially illegal immigrants, exploit public services without paying taxes.

FACT: Undocumented immigrants contribute to government revenue through various taxes and bolster the economy as workers and consumers.

Immigrants contribute significantly to the U.S. and Texas economy as workers, taxpayers, and consumers. 

  • In February, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its U.S. economic outlook for the next decade. They projected that GDP will be greater by about $7 trillion and revenues will be greater by about $1 trillion over the next decade as a result of higher immigration (includes legal and undocumented immigrants) in 2023 and a subsequent increase in the U.S. labor force. 
  • A report by the American Immigration Council (AIC) found that in 2021, immigrant households (both legal and undocumented) in the US paid nearly $525 billion in federal, state, and local taxes — including $45.5 billion in Texas. They also wielded $1.4 trillion in spending power, boosting the economy by purchasing goods and services and supporting local businesses. 
  • A recent report by Every Texan projected that for every 1,000 workers, new immigrants and asylum seekers would contribute $2.6 million to state and local taxes within their first year of arrival. 

All immigrants — legal and undocumented — pay sales, property, and consumption taxes. 

Texas’ largest source of state revenue is sales and use taxes, which everyone pays, regardless of immigration status. Undocumented immigrants pay local property taxes, both directly and indirectly through rent. Whether a property tax bill is received in the mail or paid through a mortgage company, Texas statute does not outline exemptions based on immigration status.

Although Texas has the second-highest share of unauthorized immigrants in the workforce, the Texas Comptroller has not done a study on the economic impact of undocumented immigrants since 2006. However, that study found that undocumented immigrants produced more in state revenue than the costs they generated from using state services.

Many undocumented immigrants also pay federal and state income taxes, even though they can’t benefit from most federal and local assistance programs. 

Unauthorized U.S. immigrants do not have Social Security numbers (SSN), which are typically needed to file a federal income tax return. At the same time, federal law requires all wage earners, regardless of their immigration status, to pay taxes, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center and National Immigration Law Center (NILC). The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said in a 2007 report that there is “no reliable data on unauthorized immigrants’ rate of compliance with tax laws.” But some researchers estimate that between 50 to 75% of undocumented workers pay federal, state and local taxes, according to the same report. 

Instead of a SSN, undocumented immigrants may use an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) to file taxes. According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) and the Bipartisan Policy Center, the best evidence suggests that at least 50% of undocumented immigrant households file income tax returns using ITINs. Those who do not file income tax returns may still have taxes deducted from their paychecks, according  to the ITEP. Undocumented workers paid “under the table” in cash for their work would not pay taxes on their income. 

Unauthorized immigrants are not eligible for most federal benefits, including Supplemental Security Income (SSI), non-emergency Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and most housing assistance programs. In some instances, unauthorized immigrants are eligible for specific types of federal benefits. In other instances federal funding is contingent on states offering programs to all persons regardless of immigration status. 

Undocumented immigrants may choose to pay income taxes for various reasons including demonstrating compliance with federal tax laws, showcasing good moral character for potential citizenship opportunities, documenting work history and presence in the U.S. for legal immigration eligibility, and potentially claiming refunds or tax credits.

Gov. Abbott wants to deny free public education to unauthorized immigrant children.

Gov. Abbott has spoken about withholding state public education funding for unauthorized immigrant children, most recently in his fight to campaign against Texas House voucher opponents. During the 88th Session, Sen. Springer and Rep. Bumgarner introduced bills (SB 923 and HB 4668) to deny public education for unauthorized immigrant children unless the federal government agreed to pay for it. 

As this report has discussed, unauthorized immigrants pay taxes, which fund public education. But even so, the Supreme Court has ruled that states may not deny children a free public education because of their immigration status.

In 1982, the Supreme Court ruled in Plyler v. Doe that Texas violated the Equal Protection Clause under the Fourteenth Amendment with its new law to withhold state funds for the education of children who were not “legally admitted” into the U.S. Furthermore, the court held that states could not deny children access to education, request citizenship documentation, or hold children liable for their parent’s actions.

Ultimately, providing free public education to all Texans isn’t just a matter of policy; it’s a matter of moral imperative. The state must ensure that no child is deprived of the right to education.

MYTH: Immigrants, especially illegal immigrants, are responsible for higher crime rates. 

Former President Donald Trump famously said in a 2015 campaign speech that Mexican immigrants are “bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists.” 

FACT: Crime rates are not higher among immigrants, which is why removal programs are unlikely to deliver crime reduction promises. 

There are a slew of studies affirming crime rates are not higher among immigrants. Some recent publications include: 

  • A 2020 paper published in the scientific journal PNAS, which looked at Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) data between 2012 and 2018 and found that undocumented immigrants have lower crime rates than both native-born citizens and legal immigrants across a range of felony offenses. Relative to undocumented immigrants, US-born citizens were over two times more likely to be arrested for violent crimes and 2.5 times more likely to be arrested for drug crimes. 
  • A 2021 report by the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, looked at DPS data from 2019 and found that immigrants were less likely to be convicted of a crime than native-born Americans. Legal immigrants were about 57.2% less likely to be convicted of a crime, and illegal immigrants were 37.1% less likely to be convicted of a crime relative to their U.S.-born counterparts. 
  • A 2023 National Bureau of Economic Research working paper compared decades of Census crime data and found that immigrants are less likely to be incarcerated than U.S.-born men. 


While there are too many pervasive myths about immigrants to discuss in this report —  it’s evident that they are largely unfounded or lack important nuance. It’s imperative for public officials to uphold truth and accuracy in their discourse on immigration.

In the following weeks, the LSG will release its third and final part of our interim series on immigration. Part 3 will explore current federal and state immigration laws, with a focus on policy solutions.