DALLAS — Whenever I do a story about government programs — like health care or education — I get a flood of comments on Facebook that illegal immigrants are using up our government's services and we're paying the bill.
So, are illegal immigrants a drag on the cost of government programs?
For answers, I'm diving into this landmark research report from the National Academies of Science, a gold standard for research. I’m also talking to Pia Orrenius, Senior Economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. She's one of 14 economists, professors and policy experts who wrote the report.
But first, how many illegal immigrants are there in the U.S.? The Pew Research Center generated a number of 10.7 million in 2016.
But the experts conducting this study concluded that there is no reliable way to know how many people are in the country illegally. So, instead, they looked at the universe of all immigrants.
As a subset of that, they identified uneducated immigrants. From there, you can see how much an uneducated immigrant contributes in payroll or property tax, for a house or apartment, and then subtract how much that person and their family use in government services.
At the federal level, the National Academies found, over the long term, "the impacts of immigrants on government budgets are generally positive..."
“Because they have access to fewer services from the government, they're actually less of a cost then legal immigrants or US citizens,” Orrenius said.
When it comes to federal programs, a first-generation immigrant — including dependents — contributes $7,117 in taxes and uses $6,154 in services. That's a difference of about $1,000. (See Table 9-6.)
But the state and local level is a different story. It found: "first-generation immigrants are costlier to governments, mainly at the state and local levels... in large part due to the costs of educating their children."
“Low income families are not contributing enough in state and local taxes to compensate for cost of educating their children,” Orrenius said.
In Texas, for example, an immigrant costs taxpayers $2,050, partly for medical expenses, but mostly for the cost of educating that person's children. By the time that person’s kids are working, the cost is $400. But members of the third generation put in $1,400 more than they take out. (See Table 9-6.)
“Education is an investment in the future of the child. Education will yield an investment that is positive for society and the individual,” she said.
So, are illegal immigrants a drag on the cost of government programs? The best data we have is on uneducated immigrants. At the federal level, they are not a drag on government services. At the state and local level, they are.
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