Posted on May 13, 2013

You Can’t Wish Away the Facts About Immigration Amnesty

David Frum, The Daily Beast, May 9, 2013

The Heritage Foundation this week released a study estimating that the Senate immigration bill will cost taxpayers $6 trillion over the next 50 years, the expected life cycle of the persons legalized by the path to citizenship.

The study has touched off a tremendous controversy–and what’s most notable about the onslaught is how brazenly it ignores the study’s contents.

The New York Times today, for example, has a big story impeaching the credibility of one of the study’s co-authors, Jason Richwine.

“Whether you agree or disagree with the Heritage study, what their co-author believes is downright insulting and shameful,” said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, a group that has mobilized support for the bill. “Heritage has really become an outlier. The rest of the country is having a 21st-century conversation about immigration reform, and Heritage is caught in 1800. I really think their entire credibility is in question.”

Sorry, no. If you agree with the Heritage study–and so far I have not heard any good reason to doubt it–the results are so important and explosive that the coauthor’s other views dwindle into a mere footnote to history. It’s not some personal quirk of Jason Richwine’s that has caused him to doubt that the legalized immigrants will rapidly raise their skill levels or education standards. The most authoritative study of Mexican immigration over time has found exactly the same thing. Edward Teles and Velma Ortiz write from the left in their book, Generations of Exclusion. They indict American society, discriminatory educational attitudes, and other “exclusionary” forces–but they have the goods that Mexican-American inter-generational progress has slowed to a stall. I would follow Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies in putting the blame on the new American labor market and the reduction in blue-collar wages in a post-industrial economy.

But whatever the reason, the facts are the facts–and the math is the math.


Unless you posit that the newly legalized immigrants will dramatically outperform the existing immigrant population, you will reach a result very like that of the Heritage Foundation: that the taxes paid by the newly legalized will not begin to equal the costs of their Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and other benefits.

(The Wall Street Journal is trumpeting a letter from the Social Security Administration declaring that the Senate bill will have positive effects on the solvency of the retirement program. But in a really shabby piece of misleading reporting, theJournal‘s lead paragraph refers to the program’s “long-term solvency” and waits until paragraph four to note that this “long term” extends only to the program’s next ten years  – long before the vast majority of the newly legalized will become eligible for benefits! The SSA promises in its letter to provide a 75-year accounting somewhat later. I can well imagine Senator Rubio urging them, “take your time, take your time.”)


Any stick will do to beat a dog, as the saying goes, and when you begin with a fervent a priori commitment to a policy, you don’t ask too many questions about the methods used to shoot down objections. Nevertheless, when you find yourself typing sentences like the following, you need to stare hard at your own fingers.

Haley Barbour, the former governor of Mississippi, said the report was “a political document” and “not a very serious analysis.”

I cherish and enjoy Haley Barbour. But he’d be the first to smile at the hilarious irony of Washington’s master lobbyist being taken at face value when he dismisses information inconvenient to his clients as a “political document.”

A lot of people come to these immigration debates with strong prior ideological commitments. Jason Richwine’s aren’t very attractive, but neither are Grover Norquist’s. The apologists for plutocracy are content this week to use anti-racism as their debating tool. But a tool is all it is.