The cost to the U.S. taxpayers of legalizing at least 11 million illegal immigrants would be $6.3 trillion, according to a detailed new study from the Heritage Foundation.
Entitled “The Fiscal Cost of Unlawful Immigrants and Amnesty to the U.S. Taxpayer”, the study examines current statistics on illegal immigrant families and determines their lack of education combined with the resources they are likely to consume over their lifetimes would total approximately $9.4 trillion. Heritage estimates tax revenues from those same people would total about $3.1 trillion.
Dr. Jason Richwine studies empirical data for the Domestic Policy Studies Department at Heritage and is co-author of the study along with Robert Rector. He says the math is pretty simple.
“We looked at all spending that’s federal, state and local and we looked at all the taxes that immigrants pay in. After that it’s a matter of subtraction, the taxes that are paid and the benefits that are received,” said Richwine. “The biggest categories that contribute to the fiscal deficit are public education and the federal means-tested programs that immigrants will receive after amnesty as well as what happens in the future with retirement, especially Social Security and Medicare.”
Richwine also fought back against the two biggest criticisms of the report. Supporters say it fails to account for future generations being net contributors to the government because of improved educational opportunities. Richwine says that isn’t true. He admits that subsequent generations will be less of a burden but points out $6.3 trillion is a huge hole to climb out of and the next generation will only add to the problem when we can least afford it.
Critics also allege the Heritage study fails to account for the economic growth that legalizing these millions of people will bring to the U.S. and counter the outflow of money through public assistance programs.
“It’s very frustrating to hear that point made because it’s essentially citing magic as an excuse to ignore the study, which annoys me,” said Richwine. “There’s no doubt that more immigration will lead to a larger economy in general. We will certainly have a higher GDP the more people we bring in. That’s not the relevant issue though. The relevant issue for natives is to what extent does immigration benefit natives specifically. What economists have found when they look at this question is that immigrants do increase the size of the pie, but they eat almost the entire increase.”
“The idea that some kind of tiny efficiency gain accruing to natives on the order of something like 0.1 percent of GDP is going to somehow come anywhere close to the major fiscal cost that we have identify is really rather absurd, and that’s why it frustrated me so much that people will cite this. It’s a way of just kind of avoiding the question,” said Richwine. “I would much rather them try to take this on more directly. Tell us what these amazing magical benefits are because I certainly don’t see them anywhere in the economics literature.”
The Heritage report projects a great deal of red ink, but Richwine says the $6.3 trillion in deficits is probably a best-case scenario. He says the report was done under the assumption that there are 11 million illegal immigrants who would be granted legal status, but he admits the government really has no idea how many people we’re talking about and the 11 million number could well be low.
He also points out that the numbers assume that only people already here would be receiving benefits over time and that the flood of illegals along the southern border would be dealt with effectively.
“What we’re looking at is the number of illegal immigrants who were here in 2011, these are the ones who are eligible for the amnesty. That’s the group we’re looking at. We are not looking at any additional immigrants. That leads to my thinking that we are being rather conservative about this. Not only could this encourage further illegal immigration down the road, which will cost money, but the the bill being proposed right now actually allows for more people to come here to get what’s called registered provisional status who are not even here currently,” said Richwine.
“If you have been deported from the United States. In other words, you came here illegally and because you were here illegally you were deported. We spent all the money and time on judicial proceedings and so on to deport you, you may now come back to the country and get amnesty as long as you have a close relative here who’s here legally,” said Richwine.
The report is available at heritage.org.