The Corner

If It Sounds Too Good to Be True . . .

A Politico story on the GOP leadership’s attempt to stampede conservatives on amnesty has a sentence that neatly summarizes the high-immigration Right’s hallucinogenic approach to the issue:

Now, key Republicans are circling back to this argument: Legalizing undocumented immigrants will make them pay more taxes, earn higher wages and bring an underground demographic of workers into the official American economy.

Sounds sort of appealing, right? But it gets several things wrong. Just for starters, most illegal aliens are not part of “an underground demographic of workers” — the majority work on the books, having lied to their employers about their fake or stolen identities.

More important, while there is indeed a discount for illegal labor, a green card is not like the diploma in the Wizard of Oz — a less-educated illegal worker simply becomes a less-educated legal worker. The basic mismatch between his skills and the needs of a modern economy is unchanged, so any increase in earnings (which we estimated at 15 percent in a 2004 report), while important to the individuals concerned, cannot be a game-changer.

Finally, the increase in tax revenues — both because of higher wages and because of increased compliance with the tax law — would be more than offset by increased use of government services. The aforementioned 2004 report looked exclusively at federal taxes paid and federal services used by illegals. Most of the fiscal costs created by immigration are actually borne by states and localities, not the feds, so the report’s findings reveal only a small part of the fiscal costs of immigration. Nonetheless, one budget is easier to analyze than 50, and this is what the report found:

If illegal aliens were given amnesty and began to pay taxes and use services like households headed by legal immigrants with the same education levels, the estimated annual net fiscal deficit would increase from $2,700 per household to nearly $7,700, for a total net cost of $29 billion.

So, because of increased eligibility for welfare and decreased fear of applying for such benefits, amnesty would nearly triple illegal immigrants’ cost to taxpayers. If you want to say that this is a government-spending problem rather than an immigration problem, fine — abolish welfare, Social Security, and public education, then come back and tout the fiscal benefits of amnesty.

None of this means amnesty is a bad idea under any circumstances — I’ve written for years that a narrow form of the DREAM Act is needed, and even a broader amnesty might be prudent once we create the conditions to prevent the settlement of another 11 million illegals demanding amnesty from the George P. Bush administration.

But any argument for amnesty must acknowledge the huge costs involved, including the burden it would place on taxpayers. Anything else is just a lie.

Mark Krikorian — Mark Krikorian, a nationally recognized expert on immigration issues, has served as Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) since 1995.

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