Immigration Reform Debate Turns to Costs

Tuesday, 09 Apr 2013 03:39 PM

By David Yonkman, Washington Correspondent

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The cost of the immigration system will certainly become part of the debate in Congress over upcoming legislation, as a major conservative Washington think tank prepares to unveil a new study that focuses on the fiscal burdens of reform.

The Heritage Foundation plans to announce its findings this week on the prohibitive costs of providing green cards, and eventually citizenship, for 11 million undocumented immigrants already in the United States. The report will take into account issues such as border security, employer enforcement, and the burden on entitlement programs such as healthcare and Social Security.

“These costs are far larger than anyone imagines and would be increased substantially under amnesty,” said Jim DeMint, former Republican senator from South Carolina and current president of Heritage, according to Politico. “In a time of trillion-dollar deficits and $17 trillion in debt, the cost of every federal program should be of tremendous concern — especially if it’s a program that will add new costs to a budget that’s already severely in the red.”

A similar report from the organization in 2007 – which helped to sink the bill before it even reached the House – concluded that immigration reform would cost $2.6 trillion in taxpayer dollars.

Heritage is already receiving pushback from pro-reform conservative organizations.

The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, last week issued an 11-point prebuttal to the Heritage study, using the methodology of its 2007 report.

The static numbers used by Heritage are “fatally flawed” and fail to account for economic growth and positive tax revenue in the United States, Alex Nowrasteh, immigration policy analyst with Cato, told Newsmax.

Nowrasteh said there will be additional costs to entitlement and welfare programs, but said they are far less than estimated by Heritage and will not truly be known until a bill is introduced.

“It did not take into account the dynamic change in the U.S. economy as part of the costs of immigration reform,” he said. “For the U.S. economy as a whole, immigration reform is a tremendous economic benefit.”

Joshua Culling with Americans for Tax Reform sent an email to top House and Senate Republican aides on Tuesday that highlights the Cato analysis.

The initial study had a significant impact on the last big immigration reform push on Capitol Hill, with Heritage’s $2.6 trillion cost estimate influencing many conservative members of Congress to oppose reform,” Culling wrote. “Unfortunately, [Heritage senior research fellow Robert] Rector’s study was severely flawed in its methodology, and thus in its findings. He appears poised to make the same errors in the paper’s latest iteration.”

Michael Gonzalez, vice president of communications for Heritage, told Politico that the new report will take into consideration “any valid criticism from Cato or others.”

“It is highly unusual to see an attack on research before it is even presented,” Gonzalez said. “It indicates how powerful our research is and the impact that it has.”

Meanwhile on Capitol Hill, the bipartisan group of eight senators actually writing the bill is weighing costs as well. They incorporate a 13-year path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, but would delay their access to government benefits such as Medicare, Medicaid, and Obamacare for at least a decade, Politico reports. This means that those expenses would fall outside of a 10-year scoring window from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office once they submit a bill.

The issue prompted an email on Monday from Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, who questioned the cost of a bill that falls outside that timeframe.

“The true cost of the bill will occur outside the 10-year budgetary window, as illegal immigrants become eligible for green cards and ultimately citizenship,” the Alabama senator said. “Once they become eligible for green cards, they will also be eligible for myriad public assistance, welfare, and entitlement programs.”

Sessions says that the burden on Obamacare alone will likely be around $2 trillion, with Medicare and Social Security expected to account for another $2.5 trillion.

In the House, the cost of reforming the nation’s immigration laws is a top concern as that chamber’s group of Republicans tries to wrap up the details of its legislation.

House Republicans, both in the working group and in leadership, have no expectation that their bill will be budget-neutral.

“Almost everyone involved acknowledges that this will cost money, but the question is obviously how much,” a senior GOP aide told Politico. “A reasonable amount that covers the cost of bringing these folks in to the system and assimilating them is much different from flipping a switch and waking up the next morning with millions of new citizens totally or largely dependent on the government, which is the Democrat fantasy scenario.”



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