There are an estimated 11-12 million illegal immigrants in the United States. The proposals regarding what to do about them run the entire spectrum from “throw them all out” to “give them all green cards.” There are many myths regarding who immigrates to the United States and why.

After practicing immigration law for 23 years in the Tri-City area of Washington, I may have some insight into who and why people come to the United States. Although I have represented individuals from 109 of the 192 countries in the world, most of my practice over the years has involved Mexican farm workers. Estimates indicate that probably 70% of the 11-12 million illegal immigrants are from Mexico and Central America.

Here are the five most common myths I’ve seen in my work with them.

Myth No. 1: Illegal immigrants take American jobs.

Not so. For the most part, the illegal immigrants who are here work in jobs Americans simply do not want. Those jobs are farm workers, janitors, chambermaids, busboys and dishwashers, gardeners and groundskeepers, nannies and household domestics. Those are not the jobs Americans seek.

The jobs Mexicans perform in the United States are usually minimum wage with no benefits and little opportunity for advancement. They do the back-breaking work Americans can, but refuse to, do.

Myth No. 2: Illegal immigrants don’t pay taxes.

Not true. The overwhelming majority of illegal immigrants pay the exact same taxes you and I pay. Most illegal immigrants work for employers who don’t know they are illegal or, possibly suspect they may be illegal, but don’t want to know for sure. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” is the basis of their working relationship.

As a result, the typical employer of an illegal immigrant deducts all the federal income and social security taxes from all his employees’ earnings — legal and illegal alike.

Myth No. 3: Illegal aliens don’t learn English or assimilate.

Yes and no. The typical Mexican who grew up in Mexico attended school there for only three to six years. The education system in rural Mexico, from which most illegal immigrants come, is rudimentary at best. As a result, most of the older Mexicans who are here  speak their native language only at a basic level. It is tremendously difficult for many of those adults to learn fluent English.

The children of those older immigrants, however, go to school in the United States, are immersed in English-speaking American culture and virtually all speak English.

In the years ahead, those Mexicans will speak English and assimilate into U.S. culture the same way the Irish, Italians, Japanese and every other group of new immigrants have.

Myth No. 4: Illegal immigrants don’t contribute to the U.S. economy; they just come here to get on welfare.

Not even close. Illegal aliens contribute immensely to the U.S. economy. They work hard and perform the essential jobs that are vital to keeping the U.S. economy moving forward. They pay taxes and consume goods and services — from cars and gas to groceries and houses — which, in turn, benefits those U.S. citizens selling those commodities.

As for illegal immigrants signing up for welfare, U.S. law strictly prohibits those here illegally from obtaining welfare, food stamps or any other type of public assistance.

Myth No. 5: Illegal aliens should apply to legally come in to work in the United States.

Great idea, except it just happens to be impossible. The present system for employment-based immigration allows only 10,000 low-skill green cards per year for the entire United States.

As a result, the United States finds itself in the paradoxical situation in which we need the workers, the foreign workers want the jobs, but the present immigration system has no avenue to allow them to enter and work legally.

The 11- to 12-million illegal aliens in the United States is the 800-pound gorilla in American society that many choose to ignore, some demagogue and few understand.

Exploding some of the most persistent myths about illegal aliens in America may help to guide us to a national immigration policy that will serve our country while, at the same time, recognizing the dignity and value of those who are already here doing the low-skill, low-paying jobs that we Americans refuse to do.

Thomas Roach is an attorney who practices immigration law in Pasco, Washington.