Conservative Price Tag May Sway Immigration Reform Debate

May 6, 2013
Originally published on May 7, 2013 1:05 pm

The conservative Heritage Foundation released a study that calculates the total cost of the U.S. Senate’s bipartisan immigration proposal to be $6.3 trillion.

It argues these costs begin adding up from day one, from the hidden price of public services (like education) and increasingly accelerates when the 11 million immigrants become eligible for Medicare and Obamacare.

The study is an update to the 2007 report. Although heavily criticized across the aisle, it was credited with helping derail immigration reform that year. Like 2007, the Heritage Foundation’s updated version has been met with instant criticism.

Before its release, a vocal opponent of the 2007 findings, Libertarian think tank Cato Institute, urged them to avoid “the same serious errors":

Count individuals, not households. Heritage counts household use of government benefits, not individual immigrant use. Many unauthorized immigrants are married to U.S. citizens and have U.S. citizen children who live in the same households. Counting the fiscal costs of those native-born U.S. citizens massively overstates the fiscal costs of immigration.

But here's one of the conclusions from the Heritage Foundation’s 2013 study:

Following amnesty, the fiscal costs of former unlawful immigrant households will be roughly the same as those of lawful immigrant and non-immigrant households with the same level of education. Because U.S. government policy is highly redistributive, those costs are very large. 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.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), part of the bipartisan group of senators who helped craft the immigration bill, also suggested the study was flawed:

As did a conservative columnist for the Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin:

Understand that there are about 11 million people who may be legalized. Really — each one is going to cost the taxpayers about half a million bucks and contribute nothing?

But the Heritage Foundation’s findings come during a time when immigration advocates are hoping to squeeze vital votes in the conservative-controlled House.

Immigration reform is being rallied by Congressman Paul Ryan, but it’s passage is nothing close to certain, as pointed out by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a member of the Gang Of Eight.

Although much in the political world has changed since 2007, an eye-popping statistic — such as the $6.3 trillion figure — is great kindling for a debate that is rapidly heating up.

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