This week, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) came out with more fuel for the anti-immigrant movement’s fire. Their most recent publication discusses the costs of unauthorized immigration to the United States. As usual, FAIR has put out a highly misleading fiscal snapshot of the costs allegedly imposed on U.S. taxpayers by unauthorized immigrants and completely discounts the economic contributions of unauthorized workers and consumers. Moreover, FAIR inflates their costs in a variety of ways and conveniently ignores any contributions that would offset these costs.

While the publication is long and deals with a wide range of issues that warrant more dissection by credible economic experts, the trade publication Education Week has already begun the deconstruction with an item that sheds light on their misleading claims about providing English language services in schools.

According to the Immigration Policy Center (IPC), FAIR’s report suffers from three fatal flaws:

  • The report notes that the single biggest “expense” it attributes to unauthorized immigrants is the education of their children, yet most of these children are native-born, U.S. citizens who will grow up to be tax-paying adults. It is disingenuous to count the cost of investing in the education of these children, so that they will earn higher incomes and pay more in taxes when they are adults, as if it were nothing more than a cost incurred by their parents.
  • The report fails to account for the purchasing power of unauthorized consumers, which supports U.S. businesses and U.S. jobs.
  • The report ignores the value added to the U.S. economy by unauthorized workers, particularly in the service sector.

In contrast to FAIR’s report, the Perryman Group estimated that if all unauthorized workers and consumers were somehow removed from the U.S. economy, the United States would lose $552 billion in total economic activity (“expenditures”), $245 billion in Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and 2.8 million jobs.” This doesn’t count the billions it would cost to actually implement a mass deportation program.

Another argument FAIR makes, which makes it hard to glean what their solution would be (if they were really interested in solutions), is the high cost of deporting undocumented workers which FAIR blames on the immigrants themselves. It’s a somewhat circular argument to say that the cost of undocumented immigrants includes the cost of failing law enforcement efforts. So, in essence, FAIR is saying that the deport-them-all approach costs too much money and doesn’t work. Yet their “solution” is to spend even more money on enforcement.

This is not all that surprising. FAIR’s publication is meant only to reinforce their vision of “attrition through enforcement”—hoping that if you make their lives miserable enough they may choose to return home on their own. It is not rooted in an effort to move the immigration debate forward or advance real solutions. However, despite what little credibility FAIR suffers from in the mainstream press, what is most concerning about this report and its corresponding graphic maps with big numbers (the perfect stage prop for nativist state legislators like Russell Pierce and his ilk) is that they will be cited and used by those attempting to pass punitive state legislation. These numbers do not withstand scrutiny and must be challenged.

If FAIR was serious about ending illegal immigration, they would be working hard for immigration reform. That way, the government could stop wasting tax dollars on enforcement programs that don’t work and ensure all immigrants are paying their fair share in taxes.

Photo by Hayley Bouchard.