The Hidden Cost Of Illegal Workers

David R. Francis, Christian Science Monitor, March 19, 2007

Possibly the rush of illegal workers across the Mexican border has eased a little. That would please most Americans, since polls find that 3 out of 4 want immigration levels into the United States reduced.

If the flow has decreased, it would indicate some effect from strengthened patrols and a fence rising along the 2,000-mile border, a modest step-up in prosecutions and convictions of immigration-related crimes (many involve people caught in the US again after having been deported), and recent, highly publicized raids on factories employing large numbers of illegal immigrants.

At the border, apprehensions are down, notes Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), a Washington-based group that supports more immigration restrictions. But so far, he adds, no solid statistics indicate whether the estimated pool of 11 million to 12 million illegal residents in the US is shrinking or still increasing. (In 1970, one estimate put America’s “undocumented” residents at a mere 700,000.)

The cure for illegal immigration is “not difficult,” says Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington. The government simply has to sternly enforce the laws against hiring illegals. If jobs for these foreign-born workers dry up, he says, so will their flow into the US.

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To Rector of the Heritage Foundation, America has to be tough on illegal immigration. He figures at least a billion people worldwide would like to live in the US. But that toughness needs primarily to be aimed at employers of illegals, not at illegals themselves. “There have to be serious consequences to employers for hiring illegals,” he says. Such firms could be readily located, since about half of illegals use fake Social Security numbers that can be detected by the Social Security Administration, he adds.

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Rector worries about the costs of opening the country to a new flood of immigrants. A proposed Senate measure. “would be financially ruinous for the United States,” he charges.

Rector calculated that a bill passed by the Senate last year would have increased the number of immigrants gaining legal status over the next 20 years by 55 million to 60 million. Most of those immigrants probably would have less than a high school education. And since low-skilled individuals, legal or illegal, cost the government much more than they pay in taxes, Uncle Sam would be out-of-pocket $70 billion a year.

Rector calculates that the average household of a high school dropout pays about $9,600 in taxes, including payroll, sales, excise, possibly income (often offset by the Earned Income Tax Credit), property, etc. That same household receives about $32,000 a year in government services. These include Social Security, Medicare, education, welfare, highways, police and fire protection, etc.

The US should select its immigrants, preferably from among the well-educated who pay more in taxes than they receive in government benefits, Rector says. Neither he nor Krikorian says it’s necessary to expand guest-worker programs to provide employers with more employees.

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