The Facts (and Numbers) Don’t Matter in Alabama

Written by on October 12, 2011 in Economics, Enforcement, Legislation, State and Local with 8 Comments
Alabama Attorney General, Luther Strange, testifying before Congress. Photo by lutherstrange.

As each day passes under Alabama’s new, highly restrictive immigration law (HB56), it is becoming increasingly clear that facts (and numbers) had very little to do with the passage of the law—and that they continue to be ignored as state officials defend the law. In fact, this willful disregard of facts and data may mean Alabama is about to pay a very high price for a small problem.

Case in point: yesterday, Alabama’s Attorney General claimed in his federal court filing that “illegal aliens” make up a substantial portion of the state’s prison population. As evidence, he used an affidavit saying that 1) Alabama doesn’t track immigration status, and 2) 182 inmates are currently subject to deportation based on holds placed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. That is 182 inmates out of more than 31,000 inmates total. Is 0.6% of the total prison population the substantial portion of which the Attorney General speaks?

He continues with his baseless claims by noting that “many of these people are taking jobs away from United States citizens and authorized aliens who desperately want to work in these hard economic times: while the unemployment rate in Alabama stands at 10%, approximately 4% of Alabama‘s workforce consists of illegal aliens.”

However, he provides no proof that undocumented workers are replacing native workers. To say that one undocumented worker fired is one documented worker hired might be politically expedient, but the research actually shows just the opposite. Undocumented workers tend to have different skills, education, and experience levels than native-born workers. In fact, if a 1 to 1 worker replacement was the answer, why is the Governor considering using the prison population to alleviate a severe worker shortage on Alabama farms? Where are all those unemployed Americans waiting to work in the fields?

Alabama’s Attorney General also ignores data on the tax contributions of Alabama’s undocumented population when he writes “and the difficulties in collecting taxes from these persons, many of whom work off the books, means that many of them are utilizing Alabama’s public resources without paying their fair share.”

If by public resources he means public education, as the state’s Attorney General he should know that the Alabama public school system is funded by tax receipts, not just income taxes (which 50% of undocumented persons pay anyway). Education funding comes from sales, property, beer, utility, and use taxes—which we know the vast majority of the undocumented do pay. In fact, according to the Institute on Tax and Economic Policy, undocumented immigrants in Alabama pay $25 million in income taxes, $5.8 million in property taxes, and $98 million in sales taxes, for a total contribution of more than $130 million.

The lack of research and data to back up HB56 shouldn’t be terribly surprising. One need look no further than the flimsy fiscal note produced by the Alabama legislature when considering the law. The fiscal note is astonishing in its incompleteness. There is no attempt to enumerate either the costs or potential fiscal benefits of the legislation. There is no consideration of costs to law enforcement, courts, licensing offices, schools, businesses, or the foster care system.

Alabama legislators could have looked to their neighbors for guidance. The legislatures of both Tennessee and Kentucky, when considering similar measures earlier this year, produced fiscal notes that actually laid out the costs. Both bills scored millions of dollars in lost revenue and expenses to the state. Such information is certainly inconvenient for Alabama legislators, especially when the state faces a $979 million budget shortfall.

To be fair, one can’t say HB 56’s supporters have totally ignored research. In fact, in place of any official state-generated data, they have relied upon (and passed off as “official”) a highly controversial report from a likewise controversial anti-immigrant group. Legislators have derived from this report a $280 million estimate of how much undocumented immigrants allegedly cost the state—a number which they have been parroting as justification for HB56. The report has been rebuked by a number of fiscal and policy groups around the country for its exaggeration of costs and under-reporting of contributions by unauthorized immigrants.

The actual costs to Alabama’s economy have yet to be determined, and no real estimates have been provided by the lawmakers behind HB56. It has always been the case that estimating the costs and contributions of unauthorized immigrants is not an exact science. But Alabama is about to make it a bit easier. No longer will losing your undocumented population be an abstract proposition. In Alabama it’s about to be a reality, and with it the economic ramifications of a mass exodus of workers, consumers, and taxpayers from an already struggling state economy.

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  • Dan Fulton

    Consider these recent headlines:
    “UA economists see grim fourth quarter in Alabama,”
    “Immigration law impact: Hispanic students vanish from Alabama schools,”
    “Central Alabama farmers warn state immigration law leaves crops at risk.”
    It appears that no matter how rotten the Alabama economy and its schools, nor how rotten the unpicked crops in its fields,
    too many in Alabama blindly and stubbornly hold this attitide:

    “Audemus jura nostra defendere — We Dare Defend Our Rights.”
    Shout out this Republican declaration from the fertile soil of Alabama’s Sand Mountain to the once brilliantly white sands of its tar-balled Gulf Shores:
    As Alabamians we must sacrifice for the “right” and “justice” and indeed “liberty.”
    Rather than sharing the goodness and blessings of
    fresh foods, jobs, and economic prosperity, we must
    embrace these four words:
    Better Rot AND “Right.”

    Indeed, “right” here is just stupid, shortsighted, and defies common sense.
    In fact, wicked, evil, and immoral might better describe.

  • Robin

    Really on your statistics on how much ILLEGAL immigrants pay in taxes???? Sounds a little out of whack to me. How much property do they own to pay that amount of property taxes? And without a SS# how is the income tax paid??? And 98 million in sales tax???? REALLY????

    • Jenny

      Many work at jobs where taxes are automatically taken out of paychecks, and they often file taxes using an ITIN number that anyone can apply for without a SSN. It is a popular, but false, myth that undocumented workers do not pay taxes.

      • Jane

        What Jenny said. I have personally seen every undocumented person I have known (European & Hispanic) pay with ITIN #s or it was taken out automatically. They also owned houses (they helped build). = 11.4 billion in taxes last year from the undocumented.

  • Wendy


    Undocumented immigrants pay rent and we know landlords pass on the costs of their property taxes to the tenants. So they pay those payments through rental payments.

    They pay income tax through either ITIN’s or SS#’s that some may have for a myriad of reasons.

    Finally, everyone pays sales tax when they buy groceries, beer, gasoline. How would they avoid it?

  • Billy

    It’s funny how people think they don’t pay taxes. They completely are blind that they are actually giving us their tax payments and can’t claim it back in some cases. People who live off SS should know better, taxes keeps them a check thanks to the immigrants and citizens paying it. Lastly, the united state will jump into war for other countries but refuses to help people who live right here at home. And about those farm and field jobs, what the heck are citizens doing asking for money off the streets? With signs stating they need money? They have papers! They should put them to use, they have what a job requires to be hired. And still, undocumented people get by without that. The truth is, and as much as it hurts, because the truth hurts is that some illegals would make better citizens then most of you ungrateful citizens who take it for granted. Peace.

  • Philip Costa

    What part of ILLEGAL do you not understand? All of you bleeding heart liberals want tne United States to foot the bill for all of the goods and services the Government give these people. Illegal aliens dilute the job market place causing lower wages for American citizens. If you try to enter mMexico illlegaly the first place you will wind up is JAIL, Look it up.

    • Karen

      Dilute the job market? If anything, undocumented aliens actually RAISE the living standard for the American people. They provide services that the American people would refuse to do, namely WORKING IN THE FIELDS for EXTREMELY LOW AND UNFAIR PAY, AND NO BENEFITS WHATSOEVER. And all those goods and services that the government does provide to these people on behalf of their American born children (because really there is no other way to obtain help if they EVEN have that option) they deserve and so much more! They live in such terrible conditions, and suffer from so many ailments that could be prevented easily if they had all these services and goods provided to them. You want to talk about people taking advantage of services and goods that aren’t theirs to begin with? Look at the American population that lives off the government. THEY are the ones that need to get off their butt, and work to keep their own keep. Maybe if the WHITE and BLACK American population did what they had to do instead of whining and taking TAX money from the American people just to get their nails done, there would be less of a demand for the HISPANIC laborers in the fields… Don’t bite the hand that feeds you. You’re going to regret it, trust me.