Current Debates

Is Immigration Harmful or Helpful to the United States?



The continuing debate over U.S. immigration has generated plenty of controversy but no consensus. We have seen – in this and in previous chapters – that immigration is a complex, multi-layered phenomenon which generates a variety of attitudes and opinions. Not surprisingly, perhaps, there are also multiple sets of “facts” being cited or emphasized by the various parties to the debate.

The selections for this debate begin with an essay by Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, a well-known “think tank” for immigration issues. Camarota argues against immigration on the grounds that it is harmful to native-born workers, especially those in the low-wage sector.

An opposing point of view is presented by Doris Meissner, former commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. She presents and explains “Five Myths” about immigration and also responds to questions submitted online following the publication of on her article. Finally, we consider a list of “Top Ten Immigration Myths and Facts” posted by PBS’s News hour.



The Article by Camarota

The Article by Meissner

The transcript of the online Q and A with Meissner

The “Top Ten Immigration Facts and Myths”



  • Consider the nature of the arguments presented in these excerpts. To what extent do they appeal to emotion? To what extent do they base their arguments on evidence and logic? What specific disagreements over “facts” can you identify? What information would you need to resolve these disagreements?


  • Use the evidence presented in Chapter 10 and in Chapters 8 and 9 to further evaluate these arguments. How persuasive is Camarota’s argument that immigrants have a negative impact? Can you reconcile his points with Meissner’s response to “Myth #1?”  What additional information would you need to resolve this argument?


  • Similarly, evaluate PBS’s response to the myth that “immigrants don’t want to learn English” (#6) and “Today’s immigrants are different” (#7)


  • Much of the debate over immigration is economic. What other dimensions should be added (cultural, linguistic, and so forth) to the debate? What arguments were raised in previous chapters that should be considered here?


  • After considering the points made by Camarota, Meissner, and PBS as well as the material presented in this text, what are your conclusions about the relative costs and benefits of immigration? Is it harmful or helpful to U.S. society? Why?


  • What are the implications of this debate for the “traditional” minority groups? What gender and class dimensions can you identify in this debate?