May 16, 2006

The "Cost" of Illegal Immigration - and Rhetorical Dissimulation

Hatched by Dafydd

Robert Rector at the Heritage Foundation -- an organization that has long derided any immigation plan other than pure enforcement as "amnesty" -- has put up a "backgrounder" study on the foundation's website. He purports to show that any immigration plan that offers "amnesty" (by which Rector means any path to citizenship whatsoever) will be a huge drag on the American economy. The key graf:

An immigration plan proposed by Senators Mel Martinez (R-FL) and Chuck Hagel (R-NE), the Com­prehensive Immigration Reform Act (CIRA, S. 2611) would provide amnesty to 9 to 10 million illegal immigrants and put them on a path to citizenship. Once these individuals become citizens, the net addi­tional cost to the federal government of benefits for these individuals will be around $16 billion per year. Further, once an illegal immigrant becomes a citizen, he has the right to bring his parents to live in the U.S. The parents, in turn, may become citizens. The long-term cost of government benefits to the parents of 10 million recipients of amnesty could be $30 billion per year or more. In the long run, S. 2611, if enacted, would be the largest expansion of the welfare state in 35 years.

Rector's intent is to make the economic case against any form of guest-worker program, any path to citizenship for anyone currently here illegally, and -- in my opinion -- against immigration in general. But how solid a case does he really make?

Let's take a look.

"Amnesty" or "plea bargain?"

Let's get one side issue out of the way before starting: Rector consistently uses "amnesty" almost as a synonym for citizenship; in fact, he uses the word "amnesty" forty-one times in this article, starting with the first word of the title.

"Amnesty" means a general pardon prior to trial or conviction. A pardon is "the excusing of an offense without exacting a penalty : remission of punishment."

  • In law, when the president pardons someone, the offense is erased as if it had never occurred;.

    According to Black's Law Dictionary, "it releases punishment and blots out the existence of guilt, so that in the eyes of the law, the offender is as innocent as if he had never committed the offense."

  • When the IRS has a "tax amnesty," you are allowed to repay back taxes with no penalty whatsoever, often even without interest;
  • When states or cities declare "firearm amnesties," the same holds true: you can turn in anything, and you won't be arrested or prosecuted;
  • When President Carter and Congress declared an amnesty in 1977 of Vietnam draft-dodgers, they were allowed to return to the United States with no charges of any kind.

An amnesty means the crime is "blotted out," as if it never occurred. But in fact, under Hagel-Martinez, the illegals are punished; the crime of illegal entry is not blotted out: they must admit guilt and pay a substantial fine.

The word for the executive reducing a sentence already imposed on someone already convicted is clemency, or perhaps commutation. But what we're really discussing is when a person voluntarily admits guilt in exchange for a reduced sentence. The term for that is a plea bargain.

But I reckon "plea bargain" isn't enraging enough to create a mass, emotional uprising... hence they've settled upon "amnesty." It may be completely wrongly used, but I suppose the ends must justify the means.

Cost in perspective

First, a bit of background of our own. The current U.S. budget is about $2.6 trillion; so an increase of $46 billion at some point in the future -- the first $10 billion about six or seven years from now, the $30 billion (assuming it happens, see below) about 10-15 years after that -- amounts to 1.7% of the budget... and could be paid for by just a slight reduction in any of a number of other areas.

Second, Rector clearly assumes (from the fact that he doesn't even mention it) that we will do absolutely nothing to get a handle on spending on entitlement programs over the next 16 to 22 years. This in itself is a rather breathtaking assumption: since the Heritage Foundation itself has recommended a number of things we could do -- the easiest and most obvious being shifting Medicare from a defined benefit to a defined contribution program -- one must conclude that Robert Rector believes that the Heritage Foundation will have no influence whatsoever on American economic policies... a stunning admission of impotence from a formerly influential body!

From A To-Do List Before Spending Hits Tipping Point, by Heritage Foundation President Ed Feulner, December 20th, 2005:

Of course, to really control Medicare spending, lawmakers will have to fundamentally change the program. It's time to design a new system based on personal choice, market competition and light regulation. Such a system should be a "defined contribution" system, not the "defined benefit" system we have now.

That means the government would agree to contribute a certain amount to fund each beneficiary's coverage. This would create a market for private health plans that would compete for customers by offering attractive benefit packages. It also would let seniors keep their pre-retirement health care plan if they're happy with it or design new coverage options tailored to their needs.

Such a defined-contribution plan also would allow lawmakers to control costs. Defined-benefit programs don't work because they're like a blank check -- each new medical advance creates a new government requirement. A defined-contribution plan would allow seniors to enjoy those advances without sticking Uncle Sam with the big bills.

Several states have already begun experimenting with a defined contribution Medicare plan, rather than a defined benefit plan... notably Florida and South Carolina, two states with very large numbers of retirees. And according to yet another Heritage Foundation paper, these state reforms -- made possible by the federal waiver system for state experimentation pushed through Congress by President Bush -- are expected to dramatically reduce Medicare costs, starting almost immediately and into the future.

From the same article I quoted above:

There are plenty of places to make cuts right now. For example:

* The Congressional Budget Office has published a "Budget Options" book identifying $140 billion in potential cuts.

* The federal government spends $23 billion annually on silly special interest projects such as grants to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and efforts to combat teenage "goth" culture in Blue Springs, Mo.

* Washington spends $60 billion annually on corporate welfare, versus $43 billion on homeland security.

And that's just for starters.

Right. So if we could make just 20% of the cuts envisioned in each of these areas, that's $41.2 billion per year right there. The Medicare changes that the Heritage Foundation proposes, along with Health Savings Accounts, would save tens of billions of dollars in Medicare costs almost immediately, a savings that will continue to rise with every passing year.

Potential spending cuts dwarf any increased cost from a guest-worker program or normalizing illegals already here... a cost that even Rector admits would be at least partially mitigated by increased tax revenues from the newly-legalized former illegals.

So Rector's objection is a non-issue from the beginning. The real issue is general control of spending: if we do that, any increase in spending related to illegals made legal will be easily absorbed; if we do not gain control of spending, then immigration won't make any difference -- we're sunk anyway.

Convictions make convicts

But even more than that, the Heritage study demonstrates a rather colossal disdain for the ability of new legal immigrants to support their own families. For example, Rector notes that when adult immigrants (legal or otherwise) become citizens, they are allowed to bring both their parents to the United States as legal immigrants; some of those parents will themselves eventually become citizens.

He estimates, probably not unreasonably, that about 10% of those immigrants' parents will eventually come here and become citizens (though he assumes that every adult immigrant has two living parents who will want to come here, which is not reasonable at all; but let that lie). Thus, he guesses that legalizing 10 million immigrants will eventually produce 20 million parents coming here from the old country, of whom two million will eventually become citizens.

How many does he estimate will immediately go on welfare then? Oh, approximately two million:

If ten million current illegal immigrants were granted amnesty and citizenship under CIRA, as many as twenty million foreign born parents would be given the right to immigrate to the U.S. Once in the U.S., the immigrant parents would receive social services and government funded medical care, much of it paid for through the Medicaid disproportionate share program. [Note, not "might receive" but "would receive." -- the Mgt.]

These immigrant parents coming to the U.S. would also be eligible to apply for citizenship themselves. On attaining citizenship, most would become eligible for benefits from the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid programs, at an average cost of over $18,000 per person per year. While it is true that the language require­ments of the citizenship test would serve as a bar­rier to immigrant parents becoming citizens, the tests are not very difficult and the financial rewards of citizenship would be very great. If only ten per­cent of the parents of those receiving amnesty under CIRA became citizens and enrolled in SSI and Medicaid, the extra costs to government would be over $30 billion per year.

What exactly is Rector saying? Medicare is available to every senior or disabled person, regardless of income; but he is talking here about Medicaid:

Medicaid is available only to certain low-income individuals and families who fit into an eligibility group that is recognized by federal and state law.

In other words, Medicaid -- unlike Medicare -- is a welfare program. So is SSI, by the way, another federal payment made only to low-income citizens and legally resident aliens, brought to us courtesy President Richard Nixon.

Perhaps I'm not being exactly fair to Mr. Rector. Maybe he's not saying that 10% of the parents will become citizens, and of those who do, 100% will immediately go on welfare. Maybe he means that 40% or 50% will become citizens, and of those, only 10% will go on welfare.

How many does he think will become citizens, with or without welfare? He doesn't say; nor does he give us any reason to believe that the intersection is 10% of all immigrating parents of immigrants... despite the fact that his entire calculation critically depends upon this estimate.

Perhaps I can be pardoned -- or granted clemency -- for believing that in fact, Rector by and large assumes that the only reason these parents of immigrants would ever become citizens themselves is to suck up welfare benefits; it fits the tone of the rest of his piece.

I think it very plausible that only 10% of elderly parents of adult immigrants might eventually become citizens themselves; but the idea that every last one of them can't wait to jump aboard the "welfare wagon" is insulting, offensive, and absurd..

For one point, you're an "adult" in this country at age 18; in many Third-World countries, people have children at a much younger age. Thus, a great many of those parents brought in by immigrants will be in their forties and fifties and used to hard work. Does Rector think they loafed their time away in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvadore, Armenia, and Ukraine? Why wouldn't a substantial portion of these parents find work themselves?

May immigrants come here and start their own businesses: stores, restaurants, meat markets, dance instruction, computer software... who knows? Family-owned small businesses have become the backbone of the American economy, and the fastest growing segment thereof. Such businesses often hire the whole family, and nobody is on welfare.

And does Rector assume from the outset that all attempts at assimilation will fail, that nobody among the immigrants is responsible and shares the American ethic of paying your own way and supporting your own family -- even your parents when they get old?

Does Rector thus casually assume that current immigrants are morally inferior to all the earlier generations of immigrants -- possibly even including his own parents or grandparents?

The cost of inflammatory rhetoric

This is the level to which this discussion has degenerated, where even respectable and respected institutions like the Heritage Foundation begin any discussion with a hidden, anti-immigrant bias, anger at all these foreigners coming into "our" America, and the assumption that they only come to suck up our welfare and live on Easy Street.

Good God, we deserve better from that side of the debate.

We desperately need continuing input from those for whom border security is paramount:

  • We need pressure to build a real wall;
  • We need more money and manpower offered for border security;
  • We need much harsher penalties for employers hiring illegals once they have legal guest workers available instead;
  • We need guarantees that we won't repeat the disaster of Simpson-Mazzoli in 1986 (signed by Ronald Reagan, by the way).

But when the security-side of the debate abandons the field, refusing even to engage in the effort of making a marginally good bill into a pretty good one, preferring a one-sided bill that cannot pass to a balanced bill that will... then our country -- and their own cause of border security -- is ill-served indeed.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, May 16, 2006, at the time of 4:22 PM

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Tracked on June 1, 2006 2:27 AM


The following hissed in response by: Andrew Grossman

A correction: Heritage actually does support a guest worker program:

Heritage also supports making it easier for high-skill workers to come to the U.S.:

Heritage really is not isolationist in this debate at all; but we do disfavor amnesty, which we would define (more or less) as giving people who have broken our immigration laws an advantage over those who have not and are waiting patiently to enter the country.

I'm not going to go through and address all of your points because I think your basic thrust is wrong. Take a closer look at our work, and you may see that you've misunderstood our position. At the very least, you'll see that we have no "anti-immigrant bias." Far from it.

The above hissed in response by: Andrew Grossman [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 16, 2006 4:50 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dan Kauffman

We need also to make certain that we do not duplicate France's mistake and end up with Massive enclaves of unemployed immigrants on welfare.

and don't say it won't happen here, already there are those who think ILLEGAL ALIENS have welfare rights.

Your "guests" Daffyd have not only come to the Party uninvited there are also demanding party favours like all the invited guests get.

The above hissed in response by: Dan Kauffman [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 16, 2006 5:33 PM

The following hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh

Andrew Grossman:

Welcome to Big Lizards; have you been here before?

I have a lot of respect for your organization... which is why I'm more than a little irritated by the Rector articles Friday.

Andrew Grossman says:

A correction: Heritage actually does support a guest worker program

Well, no, not really; the link you provided is a paper by Ed Meese and Dr. Matthew Spalding saying if we're going to have a guest-worker program, then it must satisfy the following criteria.

It does not argue that such a program is a good idea.

By contrast, Rector clearly and unambiguously argues that such a program would be bad for the economy (hence a bad idea):

Because nearly all of the guest workers and their families would within a few years become eligible for government welfare and other services, the fiscal costs from the program could rival those stemming from the direct amnesty provisions of the bill....

A guest worker program that, in fact, provides per­manent residence and citizenship would not be beneficial to the nation’s finances.

You could argue that Rector only meant to knock a guest-worker program that allowed eventual residency; that if everyone were forced back home after six years, come hell or high water, that it would be a good program.

But Rector himself makes no such argument in this piece.

Andrew Grossman says:

Heritage also supports making it easier for high-skill workers to come to the U.S.

The part you refer to is this, one presumes:

The macroeconomic argument in favor of immi­gration is especially compelling for highly educated individuals with backgrounds in science, engineer­ing, and information technology. The increasing worry about outsourcing jobs to other nations is just one more reason to attract more jobs to Amer­ica by insourcing labor. If workers are allowed to work inside the U.S., they immediately add to the economy and pay taxes, which does not happen when a job is outsourced. Therefore, capping the number of H-1B visas limits America’s power as a brain “magnet” attracting highly skilled workers, thereby weakening U.S. firms’ competitiveness.

It's a good idea, and I certainly agree with it. I just wanted to highlight this point so folks would see it (since you didn't quote it yourself).

Andrew Grossman says:

Heritage really is not isolationist in this debate at all; but we do disfavor amnesty, which we would define (more or less) as giving people who have broken our immigration laws an advantage over those who have not and are waiting patiently to enter the country.

That's nice, but that simply isn't what the word "amnesty" means. The word already has a definition, a perfectly good one, which I quote above.

If you call a tail a leg, Andrew, how many legs does a dog have? As Abraham Lincoln confirmed, it has four... because calling a tail a leg doesn't make it a leg.

Let me help you out, since words are my business: the correct word you're searching for is not "amnesty" but "preference":

An immigration plan proposed by Senators Mel Martinez (R-FL) and Chuck Hagel (R-NE), the Com­prehensive Immigration Reform Act (CIRA, S. 2611) would provide [preference] to 9 to 10 million illegal immigrants and put them on a path to citizenship.

You could also use the verb "privilege," or perhaps "affirmative action" for its resonance.

But you cannot hijack the word "amnesty" and press it into service to some other definition.

Andrew Grossman says:

At the very least, you'll see that we have no "anti-immigrant bias." Far from it.

You may not; but Robert Rector certainly seems to have. And it was specifically at him, not Heritage in general, that I lobbed that charge...

Rector's intent is to make the economic case against... immigration in general.

Andrew, I'll tell you what I would very much like to see on the Heritage Foundation website. If you've already done this, please point me to it; and if you haven't, this would be a very good article.

The current system of legal immigration is broken, and broken badly. It is arbitrary, capricious, and often run by petty tyrants in the erstwhile INS, now the USCIS.

One reason legal immigrants must wait so long before entering the country is the incompetence and complete lack of interest shown by immigration workers in the federal bureaucracy. If you think the Department of Motor Vehicles is bad, just try getting Immigration to sign off on some paper you must file.

My wife is a (legal) immigrant, now a naturalized American citizen. She was never illegal for even one moment in her entire stay here as a resident alien; yet even so, it was like pulling teeth to get her citizenship.

It's not that she had to meet standards; she knew that, she met them easily, and she had no objection to that. But it was the nonsense and mickeymouse that drove her nuts: the INS would tell her to come in and bring certain documents; she would comply.

Then they would tell her she should have brought in other documents in addition that are nowhere mentioned on the notice she was sent. And since she didn't have those, they told her to go away and reapply for another appointment some months down the road.

Many times, they refused to make an appointment at all; she had to come in at three in the morning and camp out in front of the office. Then, at nine, some guy would walk down the line counting; when he got to some cutoff number, he would tell everyone else, including Sachi, that they couldn't be seen and they had to leave and try coming back tomorrow. After six hours in line!

The INS lost her entire file once... for months. Not only didn't they know where it was (on somebody's desk, somewhere in the building), they wouldn't even bother looking for it. They just told her to go away.

Finally, after years of this bizarre behavior, she had finally completed all the steps required for citizenship. All she needed was for the INS to give her an appointment to get sworn in; that was all she needed, just that.

Then they just... didn't. For weeks. Weeks turned into months. And months finally became nearly two years!

All she needed was to raise her hand and swear the oath of allegiance, but the INS simply would not give her an appointment. At last, in desperation, we turned to our then-congressman, James Rogan. Somehow, he was able to shake the INS tree and get them finally, finally, to let her complete the last step; and now she's a citizen.

Why did it take so long? Why was she jerked around like that? If you want to know why there are so many illegals here... that surely is part of the reason.

It's not confined to Sachi's case, either; we have a number of friends who were legal -- I stress legal -- immigrants, and they were all treated like this.

One friend of ours lived here legally for nineteen years. He worked, paid his taxes, owned a condo, had insurance, never took even a dime of welfare, spoke English, attended college and got a BA and an MA from UC Santa Cruz, and was never in even the slightest trouble with the law.

But in all that time, Takao was never even able to get permanent residency.

This is simply insane, Andrew. He was only able to get continued extensions on his work visa.

In the end, Takao lost his job... and he was summarily told by the INS to leave. To go back to Japan. Takao was in tears; but he would not break the law, so back he went -- leaving his home, his life behind.

Andrew Grossman, I have argued for some time that the most urgent thing to do is reform and rationalize the legal immigration system. Make it more predictable, understandable, something that any diligent, honest, hard-working immigrant can follow to work his way through the thickets to residency and citizenship.

It's much more important than a guest-worker program or normalizing those already here illegally.

Has the Heritage Foundation published an article on reform of the legal immigration system, so that honest would-be immigrants aren't put in the position of either (1) trying to enter legally and being harassed, jerked around, tricked and lied to, and then summarily booted out for no reason -- or (2) sneaking in and living in the shadows?

That is the article I would love to read; and I would link it and promote the heck out of it.


The above hissed in response by: Dafydd ab Hugh [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 16, 2006 7:10 PM

The following hissed in response by: Harold C. Hutchison

Dafydd, I with that your comment at 7:10 PM on May 16 would be a standalone post that I could link to at my blog.

You just encapsulated one of the biggest reasons that we have a problem with illegal immigration. Too many people can see the system has gone haywire, and have turned to the black market to fulfill their needs.

The law has gone wrong. It needs to be fixed. The entire bureaucracy eneds to be shaken up, and to be honest, we need to try to find out which of teh illegal immigrants need to be booted out, and which folks deserve to be cut some slack.

The above hissed in response by: Harold C. Hutchison [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 17, 2006 6:16 AM

The following hissed in response by: Texas Jack

Dafydd, your answer to Mr. Grossman is one of the three legs this stool needs to work. If we really want to stop illegal immigration, we MUST secure the border. I like real fences (who was it said "Good fences make good neighbors") while others want virtual fences and a bunch of patrols. Whatever. The borders must be secured one way or another.
We MUST stop the hiring of illegals. As the President said, if we have some form of certain identification, and seriously stomp hard on any employer who ignores the law, many of those now here will go home for lack of jobs.
And finally, (as you said) there MUST be a standard, intelligent, and fair way to become legal. We don't want to be wide open, but we can easily do better than we have.
I've lived all of my life in South Texas. I know many people of Mexican descent. The vast majority are good, hard-working people. They don't want welfare, they want work. Sure there are some bad ones in the bunch. Those we want to stop. The rest are maybe more like our great greats than we are. If we give these people a chance to be legal Americans the return can be tremendous.

The above hissed in response by: Texas Jack [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 17, 2006 7:03 AM

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