Before she got her current job teaching the children of soldiers in Okinawa, my mother worked as a Speech-Language Pathologist in a school district near Dallas, Texas. As you may remember from your geography classes, Texas shares a crapload of border with Mexico. 16% of the people here weren’t born in the United States, and it’s probably fair to say that a majority of those foreign-born residents are ‘illegal’. Or ‘undocumented’. Or whatever term you want to use.
Whatever you call them, they’re the entire reason eating in the Lone Star State is awesome.
Not surprisingly, my mom has a BIG problem with illegal immigration. Her main talking points focus around the catastrophic drain the children of illegals make on our educational system. To hear her tell it, we’re hemorrhaging billions of dollars to educate foreign kids while their parents skip out on taxes and laugh all the way to their bank. Which is probably in Mexico. And it doesn’t stop at the schools- ‘undocumented’ citizens leech money from health care and law enforcement. They get paid under the table and use up precious resources that tax-paying citizens scrimp and suffer to provide.
We Americans have an extremely developed sense of fair play. When we hear about athletes using performance enhancing drugs or politicians making shady deals to ensure their election, we get pissed off. So it’s easy to see why the problem of illegal immigration would get so many people up in arms. At first glance, it looks like we’ve got millions of freeloaders cheating their way to a good education and first-world healthcare. Writing that big yearly check to the IRS is even harder when you just know the suspiciously Hispanic family across the street isn’t pulling their weight.
Wait, what’s that?
And while the total they contribute, somewhere around $9 billion, isn’t a huge percentage of the cost of these programs, it’s worth noting that illegals don’t benefit from tax refunds. So not only are the vast majority of extra-legal residents paying their taxes, many of them are paying more than they should. This seems crazy- until you think about things from the employer’s standpoint.
If you pay your employees less than minimum wage, under the table, you can’t claim you didn’t know you were using illegal labor. But if you pay at least the legal minimum and make sure to withhold money for the IRS, you’ve got a reasonable defense to prosecution. But hey- that’s an example of employers doing the right thing. If it was up to the immigrants, the government surely wouldn’t see a dime of that mo-
“…the IRS estimates that about 6 million unauthorized immigrants file individual income tax returns each year. Other researchers estimate that between 50 percent and 75 percent of unauthorized immigrants pay federal, state, and local taxes”
That quote comes from those infamously unreliable loony left-wing propagandists, The Congressional Budget Office. You know, the budget office of the United States Congress. God, facts are a pain.
I’ve taken the liberty of stacking these two graphs together, because that’s something people do when they want to make a visually arresting point. Yes, it’s kind of a cheap trick. But it also illustrates that both the government’s income tax revenue AND the number of illegal immigrants doubled in the period from 1996 to 2008-9. Does that mean illegal immigration is responsible for doubling our nation’s tax revenue? Of course not. But it’s worth keeping in mind as we roll along.
Now illegal immigration is, obviously, illegal. Which is why it’s extremely difficult to get any sort of precise data on this stuff. Many of these people want to hide. And all of them are wary of answering any questions from government officials because, hey, a whole bunch of government officials want them deported. In the interest being super careful I’ve gone to a few different sources in order to determine the Total Cost of Illegal Immigration to the United States.
The Center for Immigration Studies, a rather conservative think-tank, estimates $10.4 billion as the net cost to the US for illegal-immigrant headed households. Other institutes estimate as little as $1.9 billion and as much as $19 billion. If we take $19 billion as the accurate number we pay $66 bucks a year, per American. ($34.66 bucks per person with the CIS estimates.)
So about sixty beers, if you don’t have expensive tastes.
Of course, that’s wildly unfair when you consider how these costs actually bear out. We aren’t splitting the burden across every person in the country. It falls, largely, on the schools and hospital systems and police departments of the American Southwest and heavily populated supercities of the Eastern Seaboard. So what is the actual cost of these sorta-freeloaders on our public services? Thankfully the Congressional Budget Office spent twenty years trying to learn just that.
“Over the past two decades, most efforts to estimate the fiscal impact of immigration in the United States have concluded that, in aggregate and over the long term, tax revenues of all types generated by immigrants—both legal and unauthorized—exceed the cost of the services they use.”
In the majority of the estimates they studied, less than 5% of state and local spending went towards providing for illegals. California, the state known for having more Central American citizens than most countries in Central America, still spends less than 10%.
There is one thing my conservative relatives tend to get right about illegal immigration: It increases the cost of law enforcement. But not because it increases violent crime or drug usage or anything. Researchers from Rutgers have actually found that “…in general, immigrants are less likely than native-born citizens to be incarcerated”. Despite the fact that they aren’t really committing any crimes (other than existing), illegal immigrants do add “significantly” to the cost of law enforcement.
Hell, that’s easy enough to see by looking at how the cost of border protection has skyrocketed since the Clinton years. In 2006 alone our cops spent $7.2 BILLION keeping out people who are statistically less likely to commit crimes or use illegal drugs than the white ‘majority’. It’s worth noting that, by incarcerating these generally law-abiding citizens, we’re depriving ourselves of the income taxes and social security taxes that 75% of them would pay. And the sale taxes that all of them would pay.
But hey, if the police weren’t spending all that money keeping illegals out of here our hospitals would be completely bankrupt by now. We just can’t afford to pay for these people’s healthcare. And while that may be true (depending on your opinion of the deficit) there’s another equally true fact that tends to get lost in this debate. Uninsured illegal immigrants sure as hell cost us money, but not nearly as much money as our own uninsured citizens.
Arizona’s Udall center found that more than half of illegal immigrants in the USA pay for health insurance. “41 percent of unauthorized adults, 47 percent of unauthorized children, and 75 percent of native-born children of unauthorized parents” are no more of a burden on the state than you or I. Assuming we’re insured. One in six Americans- more than fifty million of us have no health insurance of any kind.
Does it seem ridiculous to anyone else that the (estimated) 7.2 million uninsured illegals are apparently collapsing our healthcare system, while the fifty million uninsured citizens are entirely supportable? From a purely financial standpoint, we’d be way better off with fewer uninsured citizens and MORE uninsured illegals. Why? Because they tend to be healthier and thus require less care than ‘legit’ Americans. Despite making up about 10% of the total population, they only account for 7.9% of our medical expenses.
Undocumented residents use about $6.4 billion a year in medical services. But they pay for most of that themselves- the government only ends up footing around $1.1 billion. Which is about 1.25% of the healthcare costs born by public funds. But hey, that $1.1 billion in uncompensated costs does suck. Just not nearly as much as the $34-38 billion we spend every year on providing healthcare to those 50 million uninsured citizens. Let’s go back to the Udall Center’s big report for a moment-
“Unauthorized immigration is not the major cause of increases in uninsurance or uncompensated care costs in the United States.”
In other words: the illegals aren’t bleeding our hospitals dry. We’re bleeding our hospitals dry.
So- last item on our list, the schools. Illegal immigrants may not be sending the crime rate up, and they aren’t that expensive from a healthcare standpoint, but they’re still stretching our educational system to the brink. Right?
Well not in immigrant-heavy New Mexico, where the government sees net profits of $1-2 million per year thanks to sales, income and property taxes paid by immigrants. That’s $1-2 million dollars more in New Mexico state schools thanks to illegal immigrants. And things look even better in Texas! In 2006 our comptroller added up the cost of healthcare, education and law enforcement for illegals and found that we make a net profit of $424 million thanks to their presence.
So yes- illegal immigration DOES cost us money. $10.4 billion per year, net, is a fairly reasonable estimate. While that number is a pittance compared to our total national budget, cost-conscious voters are right in noting that every bit we can save helps. But before we start throwing all our undocumented neighbors out of the country, it’s probably worth looking at the total cost of border security. We spent $7.2 billion in 2006, and in 2012 the Obama Administration plans to spend more than $14 billion to keep the guard towers manned, the blimps flying and the 110,000 national guardsmen deployed.
But hey, we only need to keep throwing that much money out the door until our awesome border fence gets finished. All that will take is another $22.4 billion. See guys? If we just spend a few tens of billions of dollars more than illegal immigration costs us, we could really save some money in a few decades. Y’know, maybe.
If we don’t just blow it all on dune buggies.