The immigration debate has taken a sudden and nasty turn with the publication of a new report by The Heritage Foundation claiming that reform legislation will end up costing American taxpayers $6.3 trillion. The Heritage Foundation, one of the most respected conservative organizations in the U.S., has sullied its reputation by lending its name to this tendentious piece of propaganda.
First, the study grossly exaggerates the "cost" of immigration reform by assuming that all of those who gain legal status will claim welfare and other social service benefits as soon as they become eligible. While it is true that Hispanic immigrants new to the U.S. are, on average, substantially poorer than the native-born population, they do not remain so. What's more, low-income immigrants access welfare benefits at lower rates than the native-born and receive, on average, benefits that are significantly less than native-born recipients, according to a study by the Cato Institute.
More importantly, the children of Hispanic immigrants move into the social and economic mainstream quickly. There is no reason to believe they will become welfare-dependent, because they quickly close both the education and earnings gaps with other Americans. A study released by Pew this week shows that Hispanic high school graduates are now attending college at higher rates than non-Hispanic white graduates -- a major change from the past.
Education is the single largest cost attributable to the U.S.-born children of immigrants (as well as those foreign born who came here as young children). But education, unlike food stamps for example, pays off in higher earnings for those children when they reach working age -- and in the higher tax revenue they will contribute. Studies that factor in the contributions of the second generation against the costs to taxpayers of their early years show a net positive impact.
In every other sphere, Heritage maintains that economic analysis should be "dynamic." In other words, such analyses should take into account the consequences of policies on the economy as a whole. But when it comes to the economic effects of immigration, Heritage eschews that approach.
The study ignores the effect the new law will have on expanding the economy, increasing the labor force, boosting the return on capital to U.S. businesses and raising the incomes of most Americans. Immigrants create jobs directly and indirectly. They consume goods and services, which fuels job creation. Many become entrepreneurs and small-business owners who hire others. And they keep jobs in the U.S. that might otherwise migrate to cheaper labor markets.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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