FAIR's Fox News Op-Ed Is Marred By Misleading Facts About Immigration

July 20, 2011 10:53 am ET

In an op-ed published by FoxNews.com, the Federation for American Immigrant Reform's (FAIR) communications director, Bob Dane, advocates for four harsh immigration reforms he claims would drive down the deficit, including increased enforcement, mandatory E-Verify usage, and reduced levels of legal immigration. Although Dane claims both legal and illegal immigration hurt the economy, decrease wages for citizens, and increase the deficit, the opposite is true; an enforcement-only policy that includes decreasing legal immigration will hurt the economy and cost the U.S. billions of dollars. In addition, illegal immigrants have little impact on wages for American citizens and, if anything, could help increase the wages of skilled workers.

CLAIM: Increasing Enforcement And Denying Benefits To Illegal Immigrants Will Help Cut Debt

Dane Claims "The Growing Cost Of Illegal Immigration" Is Partly Responsible For Growing Debt. According to Dane's FoxNews.com op-ed:

American taxpayers spend $113 billion annually subsidizing illegal immigration and padding the pockets of businesses addicted to cheap labor. Taxpayers at the state and local levels bear the brunt, providing $84 billion in services annually while the federal government spends $29 billion. The latter figure is - incidentally -- almost exactly equal to the interest payment on the total federal debt this past April. Of course, the debt continues to grow uncontrollably because the government must borrow to keep up with, among other things, the growing cost of illegal immigration. [...]

The savings can't be realized overnight because much of the expense is mandated by law requiring the education of the children of illegal aliens, many of whom are U.S. born, and for emergency medical treatment. But it is a responsible step in the right direction.

Reducing these costs requires the administration to actually enforce existing immigration laws, complete border fencing, allow states to participate in the enforcement process, and otherwise deny benefits and incentives to illegal aliens. [FoxNews.com, 7/18/11, emphasis added]

FACT: Undocumented Immigrants Contribute More To The System Than They Take Out Of It

Cato Institute: Savings From Increased Enforcement "Would Be More Than Offset By Losses In Economic Output." According to the Cato Institute:

For each scenario, the USAGE model weighs the impact on such factors as public revenues and expenditures, the occupational mix and total employment of U.S. workers, the amount of capital owned by U.S. households, and price levels for imports and exports. This study finds that increased enforcement and reduced low-skilled immigration have a significant negative impact on the income of U.S. households. Modest savings in public expenditures would be more than offset by losses in economic output and job opportunities for more skilled American workers. A policy that reduces the number of low-skilled immigrant workers by 28.6 percent compared to projected levels would reduce U.S. household welfare by about 0.5 percent, or $80 billion.

In contrast, legalization of low-skilled immigrant workers would yield significant income gains for American workers and households. Legalization would eliminate smugglers' fees and other costs faced by illegal immigrants. It would also allow immigrants to have higher productivity and create more openings for Americans in higher skilled occupations. The positive impact for U.S. households of legalization under an optimal visa tax would be 1.27 percent of GDP or $180 billion. [Cato Institute, 8/13/09, emphasis added]

Cato Institute: Low-Skilled, Hispanic Workers Contribute More To The Economy Than They Cost The Government. According to a report by David Griswold of the libertarian Cato Institute: "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, The Fiscal Impact of Immigration Reform: The Real Story, 5/21/07]

Studies Claiming "Immigrants Are A Net 'Cost'" Paint An Incomplete Picture. According to Walter Ewing, senior researcher at the Immigration Policy Center, via Americans for Immigration Reform: "[M]ost 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 Americans for Immigration Reform]

In Most States, Less Than 5 Percent Of State And Local Budgets Are Spent On Undocumented Immigrant Costs. According to a 2007 report from the Congressional Budget Office: "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." [Congressional Budget Office, The Impact of Unauthorized Immigrants on the Budgets of State and Local Governments, December 2007]

Comprehensive Immigration Reform That Includes A Legalization Program Would Add $1.5 Trillion To U.S. GDP Over Ten Years. According to the Immigration Policy Center: "A new report, 'Raising the Floor for American Workers: The Economic Benefits of Comprehensive Immigration Reform,' by Dr. Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda, finds that comprehensive immigration reform that includes a legalization program for unauthorized immigrants and enables a future flow of legal workers would result in a large economic benefit-a cumulative $1.5 trillion in added U.S. gross domestic product over 10 years. In stark contrast, a deportation-only policy would result in a loss of $2.6 trillion in GDP over 10 years." [Immigration Policy Center, 1/11/10, italics original]

FACT: Undocumented Immigrants Raise Government Revenues By Paying Taxes On The Local, State, And Federal Levels.

Households Headed By Undocumented Immigrants Paid $11.2 Billion In Local And State Taxes In 2010. According to the Immigration Policy Center: "The Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) has estimated the state and local taxes paid in 2010 by households that are headed by unauthorized immigrants. These households may include members who are U.S. citizens or legal immigrants. Collectively, these households paid $11.2 billion in state and local taxes.  That included $1.2 billion in personal income taxes, $1.6 billion in property taxes, and $8.4 billion in sales taxes.  The states receiving the most tax revenue from households headed by unauthorized immigrants were California ($2.7 billion), Texas ($1.6 billion), Florida ($806.8 million), New York ($662.4 million), and Illinois ($499.2 million)." [Immigration Policy Center, 4/18/11, internal citation removed]

In 2007, 75 Percent Of Undocumented Immigrants Had Taxes Withheld From Paychecks Or Filed Tax Returns. According to a 2007 report from the Congressional Budget Office: "As part of a larger study on migration, the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies at the University of California at San Diego conducted a survey of unauthorized immigrants and found that, in 2006, 75 percent had taxes withheld from their paychecks, filed tax returns, or both." [Congressional Budget Office, The Impact of Unauthorized Immigrants on the Budgets of State and Local Governments, December 2007]

Over An Eight-Year Period, Illegal Immigrants Paid "Roughly $90 Billion In Federal Taxes." As reported by the Associated Press:

The Internal Revenue Service doesn't have an estimate of how many illegal immigrants pay income tax.

But one indicator is the 9 million W-2 forms with mismatched names and Social Security numbers it received in 2004. The IRS said the W-2 forms with invalid Social Security numbers reported about $53 billion in wages and about three-fourths of that, $40 billion in wages, had taxes withheld.

The IRS also has been issuing Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers, or ITINs, for 12 years to foreigners without a Social Security number. It's believed that many workers who seek the ITINs are in the country illegally, and the IRS reported that there were 2.5 million tax returns filed with an ITIN in 2004.

In 2006, then IRS Commission Mark Everson told Congress that "many illegal aliens, utilizing ITINs, have been reporting tax liability to the tune of almost $50 billion from 1996 to 2003."

An IRS spokesman said more recent figures aren't available.

The Social Security and Medicare taxes from mismatched W2s for the same period was $41.4 billion, Hinkle said.

That adds up to roughly $90 billion in federal taxes during they [sic] eight-year period. [Associated Press, 4/10/08, via USA Today]

FACT: Forcing Undocumented Workers Out Of The Economy Would Cost The U.S. Billions of Dollars

Eliminating The Undocumented Workforce Would Immediately Cost $1.7 Trillion And Over Eight Million Jobs.  According to an Americans for Immigration Reform report prepared by The Perryman Group:

For the US as a whole, the immediate negative effect of eliminating the undocumented workforce would include an estimated

  • $1.757 trillion in annual lost spending,
  • $651.511 billion in annual lost output, and
  • 8.1 million lost jobs

[Americans for Immigration Reform, April 2008, emphasis original]

Even After The Market Adjusted, Removing Undocumented Workers From Economy Would Cost Billions Of Dollars And Millions Of Jobs. According to an Americans for Immigration Reform report prepared by The Perryman Group: "The dynamic effects of removing undocumented workers from the US economy" would cost over $551 billion in total expenditures, nearly $245 billion in lost GDP, and 2.8 million lost permanent jobs. [Americans for Immigration Reform, April 2008]

Finishing A Full Border Fence Will Cost The Government At Least $2.5 Billion To Build And Tens Of Billions To Maintain. According to the Immigration Policy Center: "Based on figures from the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, a fence along all 2,000 miles of the southwest border would cost at least $2.5 billion to build, plus anywhere from $33 billion to $140 billion to maintain over the following two-and-a-half decades, depending upon how many breaches the fencing sustains which must be repaired." [Immigration Policy Center, 4/13/10, internal citation removed]

Mass Deportation And Interior Enforcement Would Cost The U.S. $285 Billion Over Five Years. According to the Center for American Progress:

The second option, mass deportation of undocumented immigrants, is essentially the enforcement-only status quo on steroids. As this paper demonstrates, this option would be prohibitively expensive and trigger profound collateral consequences. Our analysis is comprised of a detailed review of all federal spending to prevent unauthorized immigration and deport undocumented immigrants in FY 2008, the last fiscal year (ending in October 2008) for which there is complete data. It shows that the  total cost of mass deportation and continuing border interdiction and interior enforcement efforts would be $285 billion (in 2008 dollars) over five years. 

Specifically, this report calculates a price tag of $200 billion to enforce a federal dragnet that would snare the estimated 10.8 million undocumented immigrants in the United States over five years. That amount, however, does not include the annual recurring border and interior enforcement spending that will necessarily have to occur. It would cost taxpayers at least another $17 billion annually (in 2008 dollars) to maintain the status quo at the border and in the interior, or a total of nearly $85 billion over five years. That means the total five-year immigration enforcement cost under a mass deportation strategy would be approximately $285 billion. [Center for American Progress, March 2010]

CLAIM: Immigrants Are Taking American Jobs And Driving Down Wages For American Workers

Dane Claims Immigration "Bloats An Already-Existing Surplus Of Low-Skilled Workers." According to Dane's FoxNews.com op-ed:

Moreover, when jobs are denied to illegal aliens, wages increase to attract legal workers and taxes are paid - not just by a few but by all and Uncle Sam is happy. [...]

Fewer than 6 percent of legal immigrants were admitted because they possessed skills deemed essential to the U.S. economy. Most are admitted because of family ties to earlier immigrants, many of whom are living in poverty or near poverty. 

As a result, immigration bloats an already-existing surplus of low-skilled workers, increasing job competition and driving down wages for American workers. [FoxNews.com, 7/18/11]

FACT: Immigrants Do Not Displace American Workers

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. [...] Those studies that predict the largest adverse impacts of immigration on natives' wages assume that as new workers are added to the U.S. labor market, the size of the capital stock remains unchanged. More realistically, as workers come to the U.S., the capital stock is likely to expand, particularly in the industries where immigrants are most likely to be employed. An increase in investment would mitigate the effects of increased immigration on workers as a whole. Existing theoretical simulations that take investment into consideration show very small effects of immigration on low skilled natives and on average a small positive effect for U.S. residents as a whole." [Center for American Progress, 4/4/06, italics original]

Unauthorized Workers' Labor "Is Generally Complementary To Native-Born Labor." According to David Scott Fitzgerald of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studie, via the Council on Foreign Relations: "[O]nly 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]

Economist David Card: "Overall, Evidence That Immigrants Have Harmed The Opportunities Of Less Educated Natives Is Scant." From a 2005 paper by UC Berkeley economist David Card examining the question "Does immigration reduce the labor market opportunities of less-skilled natives?"

Overall, evidence that immigrants have harmed the opportunities of less educated natives is scant. [...]

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?, October 2005

Bush CEA: "Immigration Is Not A Central Cause" Of Difficulties Faced By Native Low-Skilled Workers. A June 2007 report by President George W. Bush's Council of Economic Advisers state: "Studies often find small negative effects of immigration on the wages of low-skilled natives. ... 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

Immigration Policy Center: "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]

FACT: Immigrants Do Not Drive Down Wages For American Citizens

EPI: Adding Workers — Foreign Or Domestic — Doesn't Lower Wages Or Raise Unemployment, It Just Increases The Size Of The Economy.  From a report by the Economic Policy Institute: "All else equal, 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]

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]

Adding Immigrant Workers Equal To 7 Percent Of Miami's Economy Had "Virtually No Effect On The Wages Or Unemployment Rates Of Less-Skilled Workers In Miami." According to the 2005 Economic Report Of The President: "The labor market effects of immigration can be identified by using real-world events in which immigration occurs suddenly and is not driven by economic factors. One such study measures native wages in Miami before and after the Mariel Boatlift in which approximately 125,000 Cubans arrived between May and September of 1980. This influx added 45,000 workers, or 7 percent, to Miami's labor force in just a few months. Despite the fact that a relatively high fraction of the new immigrants were low-skilled, these immigrants had virtually no effect on the wages or unemployment rates of less-skilled workers in Miami." [GPOAccess.gov, February 2005]

From 1990 Through 2004, Native-Born Workers With A High School Diploma "Experienced Wage Gains From Immigration That Ranged From 0.7 Percent To 3.4 Percent." According to the Immigration Policy Center: "During the 1990-2004 period, the 90 percent of native-born workers with at least a high-school diploma experienced wage gains from immigration that ranged from 0.7 percent to 3.4 percent depending on education. Native-born workers without a high-school diploma lost only 1.1 percent of their real yearly wages due to immigration." [Immigration Policy Center, October 2006]

Study: "Across The Entire Labor Force, The Effect Of Illegal Immigrants [On Wages] Was Zero." According to the New York Times:

Other research has also cast doubt on illegal immigration's supposed damage to the nation's disadvantaged. A study published earlier this year by three economists - David H. Autor of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Mr. Katz of Harvard and Melissa S. Kearney of the Brookings Institution - observed that income inequality in the bottom half of the wage scale has not grown since around the mid-1980's.

Even economists striving hardest to find evidence of immigration's effect on domestic workers are finding that, at most, the surge of illegal immigrants probably had only a small impact on wages of the least-educated Americans - an effect that was likely swamped by all the other things that hit the economy, from the revolution in technology to the erosion of the minimum wage's buying power.

When [Harvard economist George J.] Borjas and Mr. Katz assumed that businesses reacted to the extra workers with a corresponding increase in investment - as has happened in Nebraska - their estimate of the decline in wages of high school dropouts attributed to illegal immigrants was shaved to 4.8 percent. And they have since downgraded that number, acknowledging that the original analysis used some statistically flimsy data.

Assuming a jump in capital investment, they found that the surge in illegal immigration reduced the wages of high school dropouts by just 3.6 percent. Across the entire labor force, the effect of illegal immigrants was zero, because the presence of uneducated immigrants actually increased the earnings of more educated workers, including high school graduates. For instance, higher-skilled workers could hire foreigners at low wages to mow their lawns and care for their children, freeing time for these workers to earn more. And businesses that exist because of the availability of cheap labor might also need to employ managers. [New York Times, 5/16/06]