The anti-immigrant Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) claims in a new report that “Maryland’s illegal immigrant population costs the state’s taxpayers more than $1.4 billion 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 schooling and medical care for 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 Maryland businesses.

An examination of the FAIR report indicates that 68% (or $966.4 million) of its “$1.4 billion” estimate consists of K-12 education costs for the children of unauthorized immigrants—of whom 73% are U.S.-born U.S.-citizens who have at least one unauthorized parent. Likewise, another 12% (or $167.2 million) of the “$1.4 billion” figure consists of the “costs of medical care related to illegal immigration”—yet 65% of these expenses are Medicaid costs for U.S.-born, U.S.-citizen children with an unauthorized parent. These are children who will go on to become tax-paying “natives” when they are adult workers. Indeed, in the data used by FAIR, 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 the costs of education and medical care for 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, sales, and income taxes paid by unauthorized immigrants shaves about $203 million from 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 actually creates jobs and generates additional tax revenue.

FAIR’s estimate of unauthorized immigration’s “cost” to Maryland 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. Maryland’s budget deficit was not created by immigrants or children—and it won’t be filled by attacking them.

Photo by just_a_name_thingie.