The latest of the proposed immigration reform bills, one that would grant amnesty to nearly 11 million people currently living unlawfully in the United States, would lead to large fiscal costs for the United States taxpayers.
Related to the issue of immigration, the government provides its constituents four categories of relevant benefits and services: direct benefits (Social Security and Medicare), means-tested welfare benefits (Medicaid, food stamps, Earned Income Tax Credit, public housing), public education, and population-based services (police, fire, highway, and park services).
We seem to take for granted these governmental services and fail to appreciate their staggering cost. In 2010, the average American household received $31,584 in governmental benefits and services in these four categories.
The governmental service system is fundamentally redistributive. Well-educated households tend to be “net tax contributors,” meaning that the amount of taxes they pay exceeds the amount of services they receive. The average college-educated household runs a fiscal benefit surplus of nearly $29,250, which the government uses to fund these benefits. Conversely, other households are “net tax consumers,” whose benefits received exceed the taxes they pay. In 2010, households in which the primary owner lacked a high school degree ran an average deficit of $35,113.
The high deficits of uneducated households bears importance in the amnesty debate because the typical unlawful immigrant has only a 10th grade education. Statistics show that only 25 percent of unlawful immigrants have a high school degree, according to the Center of Immigration Studies.
Some will argue that the deficit figures for uneducated households in the aggregate population are irrelevant because lawful immigrants use little welfare. In actuality, lawful immigrant households receive significantly more welfare than US-born households, on average.
Because unlawful immigrants do not have access to means-tested welfare, Medicare, or Social Security, many people make the erroneous (or fiscally neglectful) assumption that they receive no government benefits at all. For example, they receive public education and community services, while their children (if they were born in the U.S.) have access to a myriad of governmental benefits.
In 2010, the average unlawful immigrant household received nearly $24,721 in government benefits and services, running a fiscal deficit of about $14,387. This is a cost that carries over entirely to American taxpayers, underlying the fundamental financial problem of the illegal immigration issue. Because amnesty would allow the illegal immigrants to have access to over 80 programs—among them Obamacare, which is already a financial disaster—the extra cost to lawful taxpayers would be insurmountable.
As a recent Heritage Foundation article points out, “Over a lifetime, the former unlawful immigrants together would receive $9.4 trillion in government benefits and services and pay $3.1 trillion in taxes.” Ultimately, they would generate a lifetime fiscal deficit (total benefits minus total taxes) of $6.3 trillion (a minimum estimate). It probably understates real future costs because it undercounts the number of unlawful immigrants and dependents who will actually receive amnesty and underestimates the future growth in welfare and medical benefits.
With respect to government spending, the amnesty bill thwarts any attempt at fiscal discipline with respect to Congress. The bill itself also exploits a loophole that would allow Congress to spend more than stipulated in 2011 spending caps (the highest recent history).
Geopolitically, the amnesty bill would by no means ensure that borders will be secure. In fact, the incentive of access to governmental benefits would further entice foreigners to immigrate to the U.S. This is extremely problematic, as the Southwest is already plagued with border violence.
Ultimately, the new bill for comprehensive immigration reform tries to be a “cure-all” for the current crisis. As with most congressional bills, it is exceedingly long and convoluted. Spread out too thin, it fails to enact the precise reform that is necessary for the current situation.
Additionally, the proposition itself seems discouraging and insulting to current Americans and immigrants that are in this country lawfully. Congressional myopia, however, seems to be moving the nation in a direction in which the “nanny state” will provide for all, regardless of the repercussions.
Featured Image by Francisco Ruela / Heights Graphic