The Real Cost of Immigration

Investor’s Business Daily, April 04, 2008

Immigration: As some experts tell Congress to fight a possible recession with more immigrants, a respected economist warns that immigration’s costs are grossly underestimated—because the government won’t study them.

Set for release Tuesday is a report published by Social Contract magazine, “The Fiscal Impact of Immigration: An Analysis of the Costs to 15 Federal Departments and Agencies.”

The 70-page study was conducted by Manhattan Institute adjunct fellow Edwin S. Rubenstein. As senior economist at W.R. Grace & Co. in the 1980s, he directed in-depth studies of government waste for the Grace Commission that sparked much popular outrage against Washington’s spendthrift habits.

Rubenstein found that each immigrant costs taxpayers more than $9,000, while every immigrant household of four costs $36,000 in taxes. That’s far more than the $3,408 in 2007 dollars the National Research Council’s 1997 “New Americans” study of federal, state and local government expenditures found immigrants to cost.

“The federal government has never produced a comprehensive study of this issue,” Rubenstein noted. “Executive agencies are not required to do Fiscal Impact Statements for new immigration policies. Even the immigration reform legislation sent to Congress last year contained not one word on its potential budgetary consequences.”

So Rubenstein looked across the government at departments and agencies that include Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Interior, Justice, Labor, HHS, HUD, Transportation, Treasury and the State Department, as well as Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration.

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Looking at education alone, Rubenstein found that about “3.8 million public school students—7.9% of total K to 12 enrollment—are enrolled in classes for English language learners,” according to Department of Education statistics. These classes are significantly more expensive than mainstream English classes.

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Rand Corp. researchers discovered back in 1981 that added costs for language assistance instruction ranged from $100 to $500 per pupil. Added to that are program administration costs, staff development and functions such as student identification and assessment.

Rand found that “the total additional per pupil costs for language assistance instruction was estimated to be in the range of . . . $460 to $1,600 in 2007 dollars,” according to Rubenstein’s extrapolations, making “the total cost of providing English Language Learning instruction to the 3.8 million students enrolled in those programs . . . about $3.9 billion ($1,030 times 3.8 million).”

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Turning to the Department of Justice, the study found criminal aliens to be “an increasing burden on U.S. prison systems.” In 1980, federal and state facilities held fewer than 9,000 criminal aliens, Rubenstein said. But at the end of 2004, about 267,000 noncitizens were incarcerated in U.S. correctional facilities.

Of all prisoners in federal prisons, 27% are criminal aliens, he found, with a total cost of $1.5 billion. But that may be low-balling it. “A shortage of available prison capacity has forced federal authorities to release criminal aliens prematurely. Nationally an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 illegal immigrants who have been convicted of serious crimes still walk the streets,” he said.

On top of that are the private costs criminal aliens impose on their victims. Analyzing the rap sheets of 55,000 incarcerated illegal aliens in 2003, the Government Accountability Office found that the average criminal alien was arrested for 13 prior offenses, 12% of which were cases of murder, robbery, assault and sexually related crimes; only 21% were immigration offenses, the rest being felonies.

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