Creating a path to citizenship for about 11 million undocumented immigrants now in the U.S. would cost taxpayers $6.3 trillion, according to an estimate by the Republican-leaning Heritage Foundation that opposes such a plan.
The figure is more than double the $2.6 trillion estimate that Heritage produced the last time Congress attempted a broad revision of U.S. immigration law in 2007. The potential cost is part of opponents’ arguments against an immigration bill the Senate Judiciary Committee plans to begin considering this week.
The Heritage group said legalizing undocumented immigrants will increase participation in programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, along with food stamps and public assistance for the poor.
“No matter how you slice it, amnesty will add a tremendous amount of pressure on America’s already strained public purse,” said Robert Rector, Heritage’s senior research fellow in domestic policy studies. The Heritage Foundation is led by Jim DeMint, a former Republican senator from South Carolina.
An argument over costs helped derail the last attempt to revise U.S. immigration law in 2007. The new proposal would combine a path to citizenship supported by Democrats with enough border security improvements to satisfy some Republicans.
“Heritage is trying to kill this in the crib,” said former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, a Republican, during a conference call with reporters. He is now co-chairman of the immigration task force at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, which supports an immigration-law revision.
“We need the labor if we’re going to have economic growth,” Barbour said. “Those who succeeded in defeating this the last time are going to try and do it again.”
Advocates of the Senate immigration measure, introduced by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, say the potential costs are exaggerated. They cite the economic benefit of legally employing millions of people.
“What’s left out entirely are the benefits of more rapid economic growth” and the benefits of a temporary worker program, including for high-skilled workers, said Doug Holtz-Eakin. He is a former Congressional Budget Office director who is now president of the American Action Forum, a policy group led by Republican former government officials. He spoke on the conference call with Barbour.
The Heritage report said over their lifetimes, immigrants would receive $9.4 trillion in government benefits and services while paying $3.1 trillion in taxes, creating a shortfall of $6.3 trillion.
Critics of immigration legislation say that because recent immigrants are typically less skilled and lower paid than others in the U.S., they will contribute less tax revenue while receiving more in benefits, such as the earned income tax credit for the lowest-income Americans.
In 2007, the Congressional Budget Office said the measure that included a path to citizenship for the undocumented would have had a “small net effect” on the federal budget over the following two decades as new spending would be mostly offset by new revenue.