Photo by Tián.
The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR)—an anti-immigrant hate group based in Washington, DC—claims in a new report that “Pennsylvania’s illegal immigrant population costs the state’s taxpayers about $728 million per year for education, medical care and incarceration.” However, the statistical contortions in which FAIR engages to produce this number render it virtually meaningless. FAIR dramatically exaggerates the fiscal “costs” imposed by unauthorized immigrants by including the schooling of their native-born, U.S.-citizen children in its estimate, and completely discounts the economic role that unauthorized workers play as consumers who help support Pennsylvania businesses.
An examination of the FAIR report indicates that 91% of its “$728 million” estimate consists of K-12 education costs for the children of unauthorized immigrants—and that 73% of these children are U.S.-born U.S.-citizens who have at least one unauthorized parent. These are children who will go on to become tax-paying “natives” when they are adult workers. Indeed, the adult U.S.-born children of unauthorized immigrants are no doubt counted among the native-born taxpayers who FAIR says are being forced to pay for the education of minor U.S.-born children of unauthorized immigrants. This amounts to a rather nonsensical form of fiscal arithmetic.
The fact is that everyone is fiscally “costly” as a child. As the National Research Council pointed out in an authoritative 1997 report on immigration, “children who consume services and pay no taxes today become contributing taxpayers tomorrow.” Why? Because, “at the state and local level, an individual or a household typically first receives costly services and transfers, particularly for education, and then in a sense pays for them later in life through taxes.” This applies all of us, regardless of whether our families came to the United States on the Mayflower, through Ellis Island, or across the Rio Grande.
At the end of the report, FAIR grudgingly acknowledges that accounting for the property and sales taxes paid by unauthorized immigrants would shave about $178 million off its inflated estimate. But the report neglects to account for the consumer purchasing power of unauthorized immigrants— what they spend on goods, services, and housing— which not only creates new jobs, but also provides federal, state, and local governments with additional revenue through sales, income, business, and property taxes. The economic contributions (and political clout) of Pennsylvania’s immigrants and their children are described in greater detail in an IPC fact sheet.
FAIR’s estimate of unauthorized immigration’s “cost” to Pennsylvania taxpayers ignores the fact that unauthorized workers are also consumers, and that their U.S.-born children are not immigrants. Once these inconvenient truths are taken into account, FAIR’s “cost” evaporates. Pennsylvania’s budget deficit was not created by immigrants or children—and it won’t be filled by attacking them.