When a proposed law is drafted for consideration by the Maine Legislature, it has to carry a “fiscal note” citing its estimated cost to taxpayers, if there is any financial impact at all.
Well, the Heritage Foundation, a prominent Washington, D.C.-based conservative think tank (which has no formal affiliation with the Maine Heritage Policy Center) has issued a fiscal note of its own for the so-called “Gang of Ocho” immigration reform proposal, and it’s astounding.
The report, entitled “The Fiscal Cost of Unlawful Immigrants and Amnesty to the U.S. Taxpayer,”pegs the total cost of “immigration reform” at a potential $6.3 trillion over the course of the newly amnestied immigrants’ lifetimes.
The eyebrow-raising estimate factors in the projected $3.1 trillion the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants would pay in taxes, so the $6.3 trillion figure is the net cost of accepting them as residents, although there would be a decade-long phase-in period before they would be eligible for the full range of benefits that would lead to that total, Heritage notes.
Some economists, including some conservatives, dispute this figure, saying that once they gain legal status, many immigrant families will become net contributors to the economy by starting businesses and paying taxes at the federal, state and local levels.
But Robert Rector, a co-author of the report and a senior Heritage scholar who specializes in welfare and other social spending issues, says that people underestimate how “redistributionist” federal social programs have become, and how they would apply to currently illegal immigrants over the long term if they became legal residents.
The report listed the following benefits that newly amnestied immigrants could receive:
- “Direct benefits: These include Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance, and workers’ compensation.”
- “Means-tested welfare benefits: There are over 80 of these programs which, at a cost of nearly $900 billion per year, provide cash, food, housing, medical, and other services to roughly 100 million low-income Americans. Major programs include Medicaid, food stamps, the refundable Earned Income Tax Credit, public housing, Supplemental Security Income, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.”
- “Public education: At a cost of $12,300 per pupil per year, these services are largely free or heavily subsidized for low-income parents.”
- “Population-based services: Police, fire, highways, parks, and similar services, as the National Academy of Sciences determined in its study of the fiscal costs of immigration, generally have to expand as new immigrants enter a community; someone has to bear the cost of that expansion.”
The report continues, “The cost of these governmental services is far larger than many people imagine. For example, in 2010, the average U.S. household received $31,584 in government benefits and services in these four categories.”
As time goes on, the costs increase. The report projects that after full citizenship or permanent residency is achieved, benefits will total $106 billion per year, with the average household receiving a total of $592,000 in government benefits.
It seems unrealistic to think the average immigrant family will pony up that much in taxes over that period.
And, the report adds, “Those who claim that amnesty will not create a large fiscal burden are simply in a state of denial concerning the underlying redistributional nature of government policy in the 21st century.”
The report notes that, even while in illegal status, immigrant households are net consumers of government largesse.
Thus, the average unlawful immigrant household has a net deficit (benefits received minus taxes paid) of $14,387 per household.
That would change, though it would never become a net gain: “During the interim phase immediately after amnesty, tax payments would increase more than government benefits, and the average fiscal deficit for former unlawful immigrant households would fall to $11,455.”
But when that initial period comes to an end, “unlawful immigrants would become eligible for means-tested welfare and medical subsidies under Obamacare. Average benefits would rise to $43,900 per household; tax payments would remain around $16,000; the average fiscal deficit (benefits minus taxes) would be about $28,000 per household.”
Finally, retirement age is reached: “Amnesty would also raise retirement costs by making unlawful immigrants eligible for Social Security and Medicare, resulting in a net fiscal deficit of around $22,700 per retired amnesty recipient per year.”
That’s per family. To get the real impact, consider the costs of all 11 million immigrants as a group:
“Under current law, all unlawful immigrant households together have an aggregate annual deficit of around $54.5 billion. In the interim phase (roughly the first 13 years after amnesty), the aggregate annual deficit would fall to $43.4 billion.
But eventually, that time would be up: “At the end of the interim phase, former unlawful immigrant households would become fully eligible for means-tested welfare and health care benefits under the Affordable Care Act. The aggregate annual deficit would soar to around $106 billion.
“In the retirement phase, the annual aggregate deficit would be around $160 billion. It would slowly decline as former unlawful immigrants gradually expire. These costs would have to be borne by already overburdened U.S. taxpayers. (All figures are in 2010 dollars.)”
And consider the fact that the “typical unlawful immigrant is 34 years old. After amnesty, this individual will receive government benefits, on average, for 50 years. Restricting access to benefits for the first 13 years after amnesty therefore has only a marginal impact on long-term costs.”
Finally, the report examines claims that the children of immigrant families will make up for their parents’ costs by going to college and paying higher taxes due to having better jobs and thus higher incomes than their parents.
“This is not true,” the report states. “Even if all the children of unlawful immigrants graduated from college, they would be hard-pressed to pay back $6.3 trillion in costs over their lifetimes.
And studies of “intergenerational social mobility” show that only 13 percent of immigrants’ children are likely to graduate from college.
“Because of this, the children, on average, are not likely to become net tax contributors. The children of unlawful immigrants are likely to remain a net fiscal burden on U.S. taxpayers, although a far smaller burden than their parents,” the report states.
Finally, there’s the impact on current low-income Americans: The study says “unlawful immigration appears to depress the wages of low-skill U.S.-born and lawful immigrant workers by 10 percent, or $2,300, per year. Unlawful immigration also probably drives many of our most vulnerable U.S.-born workers out of the labor force entirely.
Thus, “Unlawful immigration thus makes it harder for the least advantaged U.S. citizens to share in the American dream. This is wrong; public policy should support the interests of those who have a right to be here, not those who have broken our laws.”
And that final note zeroes in on the principal fact about why proposals for blanket amnesty programs are viewed as unjust by so many Americans: They reward those who broke our laws and penalize those who obeyed them.
That’s why no discussion of amnesty should be conducted without first having an absolutely secure southern border first.
Once there is a barrier that cannot be crossed — and we know how to build such a wall, because all we need to do is ask the Israelis how they built theirs — then discussions can be opened on how to deal with people who are already here.
Otherwise, all we do is make ourselves an even more attractive destination for people who are willing to break our laws in order to become a burden on the law-abiding. No nation can long permit that and still survive.
M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a free-lance writer and speaker. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org