The Eagle Forum of Alabama is holding a series of “grassroots workshops” around the state entitled “What YOU can do about Illegal Immigration.” Clearly aimed at riling up nativist fury, the fliers for the event allege that “the average illegal immigrant household receives approximately $30,000 in government benefits each year but pays only $9,000 in taxes.”
The problem, as is often the case with the “facts” nativists dredge up to illustrate the evils of immigration, is that these calculations are wildly misleading at best. The numbers above originate in a quote from Robert Rector that was posted on the website NoFreeMustang.com, a new anti-immigration site put up by the conservative Heritage Foundation where Rector is a senior fellow. The website’s title refers to the difference between the two numbers above, $21,000, which Rector alleges is the net cost taxpayers pick up for undocumented workers. “That’s like buying each of these illegal immigrant families a brand new Mustang convertible,” he claims.
Rector is almost certainly wrong, as is reflected in a fact sheet summarizing immigration studies that was put together by the Immigration Policy Center.
According to a 1997 study by the National Research Council, part of the National Academies that also includes the National Academy of Sciences, “the average immigrant pays nearly $1,800 more in taxes than he or she costs in benefits” each year — and undocumented immigrants receive far less in government benefits (for which they are ineligible) than legal immigrants. Generally, the federal government profits the most, because it gets Social Security and other taxes, while state and local governments pick up such costs as emergency medical services for the undocumented. Still, according to a 2006 study by the Texas state comptroller, even “[u]ndocumented immigrants produced $1.58 billion in state revenues, which exceeded the $1.16 billion in state services they received.” A 2007 report by the Iowa Policy Project put it like this: “Rather than draining state resources, undocumented immigrants are in some cases subsidizing services that only documented residents can access.”
That’s not all. Rector’s analysis also fails to take into account the fact that second- and third-generation immigrants increasingly benefit the United States economy, paying more and more taxes and growing the overall economy. And he ignores efficiencies that the economy gains by having these workers available to do the kind of work that most Americans shun, such as agricultural labor. The general consensus among economists is that immigrants of all types — legal and illegal — provide a substantial net benefit to the U.S. economy.
This isn’t the first time that Rector’s been wrong. In 2006, he told the far-right NewsMax.com that the proposed Kennedy-McCain immigration reform bill would likely result in a minimum of 103 million legal immigrants in the next 20 years. For that to happen, nearly the entire current population of Mexico would have to migrate to the U.S. And to reach his maximum estimate of 200 million people moving to the United States in that same period, you’d have to throw in the equivalent of the current population of Central America, too.
It’s not surprising that the Eagle Forum is touting misleading information about immigrants. In the last few years, the group has added immigration to its list of social evils, which had long centered on the gay rights movement. In 2005, the group joined the “Secure Borders Coalition.” An alliance of Christian Right groups, hard-right organizations like Accuracy in Media and the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, and strident anti-immigration outfits including the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, the coalition issued a statement attacking all amnesty and guest worker proposals and vowed to oppose any candidate, regardless of his or her stance on other issues, taking a different tack.
Phyllis Schlafly, who heads the Eagle Forum, has also been a major proponent of the dominant conspiracy theory now animating the anti-immigration movement — the so-called “North American Union,” a supposed plot by global elites to surrender American sovereignty in a planned merger with Canada and Mexico. Schlafly has called for a congressional investigation into the North American Union and for the disclosure of supposedly secret documents related to the non-existent union.