Repeat something often enough and people will eventually believe it.
Variations of this sentiment have been attributed to several well-known historical figures.
William James is said to have asserted, “There’s nothing so absurd that if you repeat it often enough people will believe it.”
More ominous is the statement attributed to Joseph Goebbels: “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”
As is a quote ascribed to Vladimir Lenin: “A lie told often enough becomes the truth.”
Setting aside whether these attributions are accurate, is the sentiment correct?
With regard to the claim that undocumented immigrants don’t pay taxes, the answer is “yes.”
This myth has bipartisan support and has been repeated so often that it has become received as “fact.”
“Gospel Without Borders,” EthicsDaily.com’s 2011 documentary on faith and immigration, addressed and exposed this pervasive myth.
Interviewees emphasized that undocumented immigrants do pay taxes – income, property and sales.
Paul Charton, an immigration attorney in Little Rock, Arkansas, explained that many immigrants pay taxes for benefits they cannot receive and use tax services that cater to Spanish-speaking clients to help them pay their taxes.
They do this, Charton explained, “not because they are expecting a refund, but because they want a documented trail showing that they’ve been paying taxes all along.”
He added, “Social Security has an enormous slush fund of money that is being paid in by undocumented workers that will never be reclaimed by those workers. And [the Social Security Administration is] kind of using that as a little cushion without making a big show of it.”
These statements are supported by reports issued by departments and employees of the U.S. government, as well as by independent public policy groups.
An April 2013 report from the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) – its most recent report on undocumented immigration and Social Security – stated, “While unauthorized immigrants worked and contributed as much as $13 billion in payroll taxes to the [Social Security] program in 2010, only about $1 billion in benefit payments during 2010 are attributable to unauthorized work.”
The report continued, “Thus, we estimate that earnings by unauthorized immigrants result in a net positive effect on Social Security financial status generally, and that this effect contributed roughly $12 billion to the cash flow of the program for 2010. We estimate that future years will experience a continuation of this positive impact on the trust funds.”
Stephen C. Goss, chief actuary of the SSA, reaffirmed this report in a 2014 interview.
The Institute on Taxation and Immigration Policy issued a report in February 2016 focused on state and local tax contributions of the undocumented.
An accompanying infographic summarized their 2012 tax contributions: $1.1 billion (personal income taxes), $3.6 billion (property taxes) and $6.9 billion (sales/excise taxes).
If this is a well-documented reality, why does the myth persist?
“Gospel Without Borders” interviewee Anthony Taylor, bishop of the Diocese of Little Rock, Arkansas, said, “We’ve got, in our society, demagogues who purposely promote things they know to be lies, but they do it because it sells.”
When it comes to the undocumented, we are witnessing the sad reality that repetition has the power to transform myth into “fact.”
Christians must be wise in how we respond to purported facts.
We must be realistic enough to know that humanity can be led astray by oft-repeated, but nevertheless untrue, claims. So we should diligently research and assess truth claims (adapting 1 John 4:1’s imperative to “test the spirits”).
Ephesians 4:15’s call to “speak the truth in love” is a well-known verse setting out a noble imperative. Often overlooked is the fact that it requires us to know what the truth is before we can lovingly communicate it.
Without carefully assessing truth claims, we become like the people described in Ephesians 4:14, “blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.”