NJ Fiscal Folly

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Cost Of Amnesty For Illegals

The Heritage Foundation has published a disturbing paper with the lengthy title "Amnesty and Continued Low-Skill Immigration Will Substantially Raise Welfare Costs and Poverty".

The paper's main points include the following:

(1) The net additional cost of amnesty for the 10-12 million illegal aliens already in the US would be approximately $16 billion per year.

Most of the current illegals have low education levels and low skill levels, which are highly correlated with high welfare utilization, high rates of out-of-wedlock childbearing, high rates of child poverty, high crime rates, future shortfalls in educational attainment, and future welfare dependence, including successive generations.

(2) Once the illegals receive permanent residence, and later citizenship, they are allowed to bring spouses, children, and parents to the US. The estimated cost of "family chain migration" would be an additional $30 billion per year. (Many of these immigrants would be net consumers of government and social services rather than potential taxpayers.)

(3) Amnesty, citizenship, and welfare benefits, combined with a lack of border security and other forms of enforcement, would serve as a magnet to accelerate the flow of low-skill illegals into the US, and would further increase the costs to US taxpayers, as well as other social problems.

As the study notes, current amnesty proposals would be the largest expansion of the welfare state in 35 years. If the illegal immigrant population becomes entitled to citizenship benefits, while simultaneously growing due to "family chain migration" and the "magnet effect", the costs to US taxpayers would be truly staggering.

I would add two other points to the paper.

First, even though immigration policy is determined at the Federal level, many of the costs associated with amnesty would be incurred at the state and local level, without benefit of offsetting Federal funds. For example, NJ hospitals currently spend $250-300 million per year providing Federally mandated medical care to illegal immigrants. There is no Federal compensation for this care, and these costs are eventually passed on to NJ residents, through higher medical fees, higher medical insurance rates, or higher taxes. NJ government is already broke, and can't possibly afford any expansion of such uncompensated services.

Second, the issue of immigration policy is intimately tied to the concepts of national sovereignty and national identity. Many amnesty supporters believe that "progressive, transnational values" trump any national policies that might preserve US sovereignty or national identity. These supporters do not concede (a) that immigration is a privilege, not a right; (b) that the US has a right to regulate the rate of immigration; or (c) that English should remain the primary language of the US. The rest of us believe otherwise.

I'm not against immigration, but amnesty plus open borders is a formula for disaster.

Update: Back in April, the Federation For American Immigration Reform estimated that NJ currently spends about $1.7 billion per year for just three categories of illegal immigrant costs: emergency room medical services, education, and incarceration. This figure seems pretty high to me, but I could easily believe at least $1 billion per year after you add in other social services plus increased state and local government costs. In general, illegal immigrant costs will greatly exceed any taxes paid by low skill workers.


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