Without a doubt, one of the most controversial issues in politics involves immigration reform. It requires compromise on both sides of the issue. And that compromise should not be motivated by courting the Hispanic vote. Some have called for the mass deportation of all illegal immigrants. Sorry folks, ain’t happening. One cost estimate is that it would strain the Federal treasury by $285 billion over five years. Despite what some may say, illegal immigrants DO buy groceries, pay rent and purchase clothing. Throw that lost economic activity, add it to the cost of removing them and this country cannot afford that hit.
To many, comprehensive immigration reform smacks of amnesty because that is what happened under Reagan with IRCA that affected 2.7 million illegals. However, the enforcement only people- those on the extreme Right especially- come off as anti-Hispanic. As a result, when someone puts forth a worthwhile and realistic idea, they are shouted down and as a result, the GOP pushes the issue down the line. There is a very real problem out there along the southern border with increased crime and drug trading. However, recent economic events lead us to a solution. In 2007, the Center for Immigration Studies put the illegal population at 12.5 million, but that decreased to 10.8 million in 2008- a 14% decline. Why? The recession, or “its the economy, stupid.”
In its historical perspective, the problem is a little overly dramatic. Today, the rate of immigration- legal and illegal- is 5.1 per 1,000 people. That is half the rate seen from 1900-1910, the last decade there was such an uproar over immigration. In 1910, foreign born citizens comprised 14.7% of the population compared to 12.7 today. During the 20th century, population growth averaged 1.32% per year, but since 1980, it is 1.07% per year and since 2000 it is actually less than 1%. The only other time that happened was during the Great Depression- more proof that the economy drives illegal immigration. Solutions that address the economic aspects- not deportation or fence building- will reform the whole mess! Put another way, the main driver of illegal immigration is not our schools, our medical services, welfare system, etc.—it is the economy. If people are leaving through, in effect, self-deportation because of a lack of jobs, then that points to the solution.
When speaking of these economic concerns, the Right can often bend the numbers with the best of those on the Left. For example, the Heritage Foundation estimates that every low-skilled illegal costs American taxpayers $22,000 a year. Assuming a 50-year work cycle per worker, that is $1.1 million per illegal. And it is true that low-skilled workers consume more in government services that they contribute. But, that could be said of the low-skilled/low paid worker regardless of citizenship. The Heritage Foundation does not mention that children of low-skilled workers receive an education, thus the “family’s” net drain on the economy is mitigated.
Analyzing the Reagan amnesty, the Cato Foundation determined that the lifetime fiscal impact of an illegal with no high school diploma was a negative $89,000. However, descendants of these illegals had a net positive impact of $76,000. After amnesty, they contributed another $8,000 through payment of income and FICA taxes (we are now down to a net negative $5,000). Although a negative, it is clearly not as dire as the Heritage Foundation’s analysis.
In part 2, I will discuss the alleged effects of illegal immigration on our social services- population growth (or the “browning of America”), public schools, crime rates, health care, social welfare programs. Part 3 will be about birthright citizenship, part 4 about border patrol, enforcement and fencing, part 5 about E-Verify and workplace enforcement, part 6 about effects on wages (the union argument) and the labor market, part 7 overall visa reform, and part 8 alleged “amnesty.” Let the attacks begin.