Tom Tancredo Repeats Immigration Falsehoods To Advance His Long-Shot Bid For CO Governor

September 28, 2010 4:53 pm ET

Tom Tancredo has built a national reputation on anti-immigration zealotry, and now he's using it to fuel his run for Governor of Colorado. The Constitution Party candidate argued in an interview last week with the Pueblo Chieftain that cracking down on illegal immigrants in Colorado could solve the state's budget problems. In reality, illegal immigrants contribute more to public budgets than they take out in services. Tancredo also claimed that an E-Verify law would help the state's economy, despite evidence that such programs do more economic harm than good. Worst of all, Tancredo claimed that illegal immigration hurts low-skilled American workers, but that dog won't hunt; the evidence shows there's no such negative effect on the native workforce, even in low-skill industries.

CLAIM: Tancredo Implied Illegal Immigrants Hurt Colorado's Budget Picture

Tancredo: Colorado Spends $1.4 Billion Per Year On Illegal Immigrants. According to the Pueblo Chieftain: "Tom Tancredo, the American Constitution Party candidate for governor, argues that an obvious way for the Legislature to cut the state budget deficit next year would be to crack down on illegal immigration in Colorado. Speaking to The Pueblo Chieftain editorial board on Wednesday, Tancredo claimed that state spending on illegal immigrants in medical costs, education and in law enforcement, totals $1.4 billion a year - according to a national group, the Federation for American Immigration Reform." [Pueblo Chieftain, 9/23/10]

FACT: Immigrant Contributions To The Economy Outweigh The Benefits They Receive

In Most States, Less Than 5% Of State Budget Spent On Undocumented Immigrant Costs.  According to a 2007 report from the CBO titled "The Impact of Unauthorized Immigrants on the Budgets of State and Local Governments": "In most of the estimates that CBO examined, however, spending for unauthorized immigrants accounted for less than 5 percent of total state and local spending for those services. Spending for unauthorized immigrants in certain jurisdictions in California was higher but still represented less than 10 percent of total spending for those services." [CBO, December 2007]

Cato: Low-Skilled, Hispanic Workers Contribute More To The Economy Than They Cost The Government.  In a report titled, "The Fiscal Impact of Immigration Reform: The Real Story," David Griswold of the libertarian Cato Institute wrote:

Several state-level studies have found that the increased economic activity created by lower-skilled, mostly Hispanic immigrants far exceeds the costs to state and local governments. A 2006 study by the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that the rapidly growing population of Hispanics in the state, many of them undocumented immigrants, had indeed imposed a net cost on the state government of $61 million, but the study also found that those same residents had increased the state's economy by $9 billion. [Cato Institute, 5/21/07]

Bush CEA: "The Long-Run Impact Of Immigration On Public Budgets Is Likely To Be Positive." A June 2007 report by Bush's Council of Economic Advisers stated that "[t]he long-run impact of immigration on public budgets is likely to be positive. Projections of future taxes and government spending are subject to uncertainty, but a careful study published by the National Research Council estimated that immigrants and their descendants would contribute about $80,000 more in taxes (in 1996 dollars) than they would receive in public services." The report also noted:

The long-term fiscal approach imparts four main lessons: 1) although subject to uncertainty, it appears that immigration has a slightly positive long-run fiscal impact; 2) skilled immigrants have a more positive impact than others; 3) the positive fiscal impact tends to accrue at the federal level, but net costs tend to be concentrated at the state and local level; and 4) the overall fiscal effect of immigration is not large relative to the volume of total tax revenues - immigration is unlikely to cure or cause significant fiscal imbalances. [Council of Economic Advisers, 6/20/07]

Ewing: Studies Claiming "Immigrants Are A Net 'Cost'" Rely On Incomplete Data.  Walter Ewing, senior researcher at the Immigration Policy Center, wrote in a June 2009 column appearing in the Sacramento Bee: "most of the studies that claim to demonstrate that immigrants are a net 'cost' to the economy usually rely on one-year 'snapshots' of the immigrant population that fail to account for the incomes and tax contributions of immigrants over time. Most such studies count the education and care of the U.S.-born children of immigrants as 'costs' incurred by immigrant households, even though these same children are classified as 'natives' when they are taxpaying adults. And few of these studies consider economic contributions such as consumer purchasing power and the formation of businesses, which create new jobs and generate additional tax revenue." [Sacramento Bee, 6/28/09, via Nexis]

FACT: Comprehensive Reform Would Increase Government Revenues

USC Study: Lack Of Legal Status For Undocumented Immigrants Means Loss Of Tax Revenue. A January 2010 study by USC's Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration found that the wage penalty for Latino immigrants in California lacking legal status "represents a loss in income and sales taxes that local, state, and federal governments are unable to capture - including $310 million in income taxes for the state and $1.4 billion for the federal government last year." The report also stated, "Granted legal status, California's unauthorized immigrants could strengthen our national social safety net by bolstering Social Security and Medicare taxes by an additional $2.2 billion annually." [Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration, "The Economic Benefits of Immigrant Authorization in California," January 2010]

Graham-Schumer Plan Would Require Immigrants To Pay Fine, Back Taxes. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Chuck Schumer wrote in a Washington Post op-ed that their immigration reform plan would require immigrants to pay fines and back taxes before becoming eligible for legal status:

For the 11 million immigrants already in this country illegally, we would provide a tough but fair path forward. They would be required to admit they broke the law and to pay their debt to society by performing community service and paying fines and back taxes. These people would be required to pass background checks and be proficient in English before going to the back of the line of prospective immigrants to earn the opportunity to work toward lawful permanent residence. [Washington Post, 3/19/10]

Cato: The Children Of Immigrants "Have A Positive $76,000 Fiscal Impact."  In a report titled, "The Fiscal Impact of Immigration Reform: The Real Story," David Griswold of the libertarian Cato Institute wrote:

What is less often considered is that the [National Research Council] study also measured the fiscal impact of the descendants of immigrants. That gives a much more accurate picture of the fiscal impact of low-skilled immigrants. It would be misleading, for example, to count the costs of educating the children of an immigrant without considering the future taxes paid by the educated children once they have grown and entered the workforce. The children of immigrants typically outperform their parents in terms of educational achievement and income. As a result, the NRC calculated that the descendants of a typical lowskilled immigrant have a positive $76,000 fiscal impact, reducing the net present value of the fiscal impact of a lowskilled immigrant and descendants to $13,000. [Cato Institute, 5/21/07]

Ewing: "A Legalization Program Would Increase The Tax Contributions And Purchasing Power" Of Undocumented Immigrants. Immigration Policy Center senior researcher Walter Ewing wrote in the Sacramento Bee:

When it comes to undocumented immigration, there is another crucial economic question: What would cost more, deporting 12 million undocumented immigrants, or offering them a pathway to legal status? The "deport them all" option would cost hundreds of billions of dollars and remove workers, taxpayers, and consumers from the economy during a recession. A legalization program would increase the tax contributions and purchasing power of formerly undocumented workers and consumers, while avoiding the economic and human costs of large-scale deportations. Which of these alternatives makes the most economic sense? [Sacramento Bee, 6/28/09, via Nexis]

CBO: The 2007 Immigration Reform Bill Would Increase Revenues By $48 Billion Over 10 Years. The Congressional Budget Office stated in its June 4, 2007, cost estimate of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007 that the bill, which would have legalized many undocumented immigrants in the United States, would increase federal revenues "by $48 billion over the 2008-2017 period." CBO said "[t]hat increase would stem largely from greater receipts of Social Security payroll taxes." CBO estimated that the bill would have increased direct spending by $23 billion over 10 years and would have led to an increase in discretionary spending for law enforcement, detention, employment eligibility verification and additional federal employees of $43 billion. Under the bill, most unauthorized immigrants applying to legal status would not be eligible for Medicaid or Food Stamps until after 2017 and would have to pay fees that would raise $8 billion. [, 6/4/07]

CLAIM: Tancredo Claimed E-Verify Would Lower Costs Of Illegal Immigration Immediately

Tancredo: E-Verify "Would Lower The Costs Of Illegal Immigration Immediately." According to the Pueblo Chieftain: "As governor, Tancredo said he would order all state agencies to use the national 'E-Verify' system to confirm the residency of all employees, as well as push for legislation to require it for Colorado businesses. 'You would lower the costs of illegal immigration immediately because illegal immigrants won't come here if they can't get a job,' he said." [Pueblo Chieftain, 9/23/10]

FACT: E-Verify Does More Harm Than Good To The American Economy

CBO: An E-Verify System Would Cost $3 Billion To Implement Over Four Years.  In 2007, the Congressional Budget Office analyzed the cost for that year's immigration reform legislation that included an e-verify program.  The CBO found that "that the system would cost about $3.0 billion over the 2008-2012 period, including amounts needed by federal agencies to use the system to verify eligibility for federal employment." [, 6/4/07]

CBO: An E-Verify System Would Reduce Federal Revenues By $17.3 Billion Over 10 Years.  According to a letter from the Congressional Budget Office: "CBO and the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) estimate that enacting the legislation would: Decrease federal revenues by $17.3 billion over the 2009-2018 period. The decrease largely reflects the judgment that mandatory verification of employment eligibility through the E-Verify system would result in an increase in the number of undocumented workers being paid outside the tax system..." [, 4/4/08]

"E-Verify Is Costly For Employers."  The Immigration Policy Center reported that "E-Verify is costly for employers":

  • "The real costs of enrolling and participating in E-Verify can run several thousand dollars per employer."
  • "We don't know how E-Verify will impact small employers who may lack the resources and technology to implement it.  While 73% of businesses in the U.S. have less than 10 employees, only 12% of E-Verify users are small businesses."
  • "MCL Enterprises testified before Congress that implementing E-Verify was "extremely costly and disruptive" to their operations resulting in lost productivity." [Immigration Policy Center, 3/2/10]

E-Verify Errors Cause Problems For Both Employers And Legal Workers.  The Immigration Policy Center found that "When an employer receives a tentative nonconfirmation (TNC) from E-Verify, it means that DHS cannot immediately confirm the work authorization of the worker and the worker must work out the error with SSA or DHS. Employers in Arizona [where E-Verify is mandatory] have complained about the number of TNCs received for work-authorized immigrants or U.S. citizens." [Immigration Policy Center, 3/2/10]

IPC: E-Verify Doesn't Prevent Businesses From Hiring "Off The Books."  According to the Immigration Policy Center, "E-Verify will not stop employers from hiring workers off the books, and may encourage them to do so." [Immigration Policy Center, 3/2/10]

CLAIM: Tancredo Said Illegal Immigration Hurts Low-Skilled Workers

Tancredo: "Illegal Immigration Hurts Low-Wage, Unskilled Workers More Than Anyone Else." According to the Pueblo Chieftain: "Tancredo also dismissed suggestions that he is too unpopular with Hispanics and Democrats to win office. He said a surprising number of Hispanics consistently support tougher immigration enforcement. 'Illegal immigration hurts low-wage, unskilled workers more than anyone else because illegal immigrants are taking those jobs,' he said." [Pueblo Chieftain, 9/23/10]

FACT: Immigrant Labor Does Not Negatively Affect Citizen Labor...

Princeton Economist: "Best Evidence Does Not Support The View" That Immigrants Have Hurt Americans' Opportunities. In an April 4, 2006, memo, Alan B. Krueger, an economist at Princeton University, wrote: "The best available evidence does not support the view that large waves of immigrants in the past have had a detrimental effect on the labor market opportunities of natives, including the less skilled and minorities." Krueger further stated that "studies that predict the largest adverse impacts of immigration" make the mistake of assuming that "the size of the capital stock remains unchanged." [Center for American Progress, 4/4/06]

Unauthorized Workers' Labor "Is Generally Complementary To Native-Born Labor."  David Scott Fitzgerald of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies wrote, "only 8 percent of the total hours worked in the U.S. in 2007 were performed by people with less than a high school education. In fact, unauthorized immigrant labor is generally complementary to native-born labor. Unemployed auto workers in Michigan are not migrating to California to pick fruit." [Council on Foreign Relations, 3/8/10]

...Even Less-Skilled Labor

Economist David Card: "Overall, Evidence That Immigrants Have Harmed The Opportunities Of Less Educated Natives Is Scant." In a 2005 paper, UC Berkeley economist David Card reviewed "the recent evidence" on the question: "Does immigration reduce the labor market opportunities of less-skilled natives?" Card concluded that: "Overall, evidence that immigrants have harmed the opportunities of less educated natives is scant." From the paper: 

New evidence from the 2000 Census re-confirms the main lesson of earlier studies: Although immigration has a strong effect on relative supplies of different skill groups, local labor market outcomes of low skilled natives are not much affected by these relative supply shocks. 


The leading alternative to a local labor market approach is a time series analysis of aggregate relative wages. Surprisingly, such an analysis shows that the wages of native dropouts (people with less than a high school diploma) relative to native high school graduates have remained nearly constant since 1980, despite pressures from immigrant inflows that have increased the relative supply of dropout labor, and despite the rise in the wage gap between other education groups in the U.S. economy.  


As in most of the previous work looking at local labor market impact of immigration, there is a surprisingly weak relationship between immigration and less-skilled native wages. [UC Berkeley, Is the New Immigration Really So Bad?, January 2005

Princeton Economist: "Stricter Immigration Policy" Is "Unlikely To Materially Affect The Earnings Or Job Prospects Off Less Skilled Workers." In an April 4, 2006, memo, Alan B. Krueger, an economist at Princeton University, wrote: "There are many policies that would be helpful for less skilled workers that deserve consideration, such as an expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit, an increase in the child tax credit, a boost in the minimum wage, and increased job training. Stricter immigration policy, however, is unlikely to materially affect the earnings or job prospects of less skilled workers. [Center for American Progress, 4/4/06]

Bush CEA: "Immigration Is Not A Central Cause" Of Difficulties Faced By Low-Skilled Workers. A June 2007 report by President George W. Bush's Council of Economic Advisers stated that "[s]tudies often find small negative effects of immigration on the wages of low-skilled natives." The paper added: "The difficulties faced by high school dropouts are a serious policy concern, but it is safe to conclude that immigration is not a central cause of those difficulties, nor is reducing immigration a well-targeted way to help these low-wage natives." [Council of Economic Advisers, 6/20/07

Native-born and naturalized citizens benefit from the immigrant workforce.

Bush CEA: "Natives Benefit From Immigration Because The Complementarities Associated With Immigrants Outweigh Any Losses." According to a June 2007 report by President George W. Bush's Council of Economic Advisers, "natives benefit from immigration because the complementarities associated with immigrants outweigh any losses from added labor market competition." Providing an example, the Council wrote, "the presence of unskilled foreign-born construction laborers allows skilled US craftsmen and contractors to build more homes at lower cost than otherwise - therefore the US natives' productivity and income rise." [Council of Economic Advisers, 6/20/07; emphasis added] 

CBO: "The Ultimate Impact On Wages Is Likely To Be Modest." On May 3, 2007, Peter Orszag, then-director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, stated that the arrival of many immigrants with little education "probably slows the growth of the wages of native-born high school dropouts, at least initially, but the ultimate impact on wages is likely to be modest." He added, "A flexible labor market will adjust over time to the presence of more foreign-born workers. An increased supply of labor should raise the return to investment in the United States, and increased investment, in turn, will tend to raise workers' productivity and earnings."[Orszag Testimony to Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, 5/3/07, emphasis added]

Georgetown Economist Holzer: Employment Impact Is "Modest." In November 2005 testimony for the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Georgetown economist Harry Holzer stated that "a consensus view among labor economists would probably suggest that immigration has reduced the earnings of less educated native-born Americans by a modest amount, and perhaps somewhat more among high school dropouts." Holzer said: "The modest impact of immigration is probably due to the following factors": 

  • Immigrants are consumers as well as workers. They raise the demand for goods and services where they reside, as well as the supply of labor.
  • Immigrants remain quite heavily concentrated in a small number of states and in a small number of occupations and industries within those states. Many, though not all, of the least-educated immigrants work in low-wage jobs to which the supply of native-born labor is limited, while those who are more heavily educated work in fields (such as science and engineering) where employment growth remains very strong.
  • Native-born workers tend to offset the effects of immigration by moving elsewhere, thereby further reducing the amount of direct competition for jobs between the two groups. [Holzer Testimony to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, 11/16/05]

FACT: More Workers — Immigrant Or Otherwise — Do Not Harm The Economy

EPI: More Workers — Foreign Or Domestic — Simply Add To The Economy.  A report by the Economic Policy Institute found that "more people, including more foreigners, do not mean lower wages or higher unemployment.  If they did, every time a baby was born or a new graduate entered the labor force, they would hurt existing workers. But new workers do not just have supply-side impacts, they also affect demand.  Those new graduates buy food and cars and pay rent.  In other words, while new workers add to the supply of labor, they also consume goods and services, creating more jobs.  An economy with more people does not mean lower wages and higher unemployment, it is simply a bigger economy.  Just because New York is bigger than Los Angeles does not in and of itself mean workers in New York are worse off than workers in Los Angeles." [Economic Policy Institute, February 2010]

"Employment Is Not A Zero-Sum Game."  According to the Immigration Policy Center: "Employment is not a zero-sum game in which workers compete for some set number of jobs.  Policies which lift the wages of workers, regardless of where they were born, benefit the entire U.S. economy.  Workers who earn higher wages also buy more goods and services from U.S. businesses, and pay more in taxes to federal and state governments, both of which create jobs.  Conversely, attempting to remove unauthorized workers from the United States would not only be an expensive and socially destructive undertaking, but would also shrink the consumer base of the U.S. economy and reduce the total number of available jobs.  In other words, comprehensive immigration reform would sustain new jobs at a time when the economy desperately needs them." [Immigration Policy Center, 2/24/10]

Furthermore, immigrant labor does not have a negative affect upon the American minority workforce.

Georgetown Economist Holzer: "Other Factors Are More Responsible For Negative Trends In Employment Of Black Men." Addressing the "Effects of immigration on the employment outcomes of black Americans" before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Georgetown economist Harry Holzer stated in April 2008 that "[t]he modest effects of immigration suggest that other factors are more responsible for the negative trends in the employment of black men and their rising incarceration rates" and therefore "changes in immigration law will probably not improve employment opportunities and outcomes for young blacks." Holzer also stated that the benefits of immigration "include lower prices for important consumer commodities, like food and housing, that are heavily used by lower-income families; these lower prices help raise their real incomes and offset the lower wages that competition with immigrants might generate. The provision of health care and elder care, which frequently suffer from worker shortages, is likely enhanced by immigration as well." [Holzer testimony to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 4/4/08]