Spurred by Republican Donald Trump’s controversial comments, immigration is a hot-button issue this presidential election season. The GOP front-runner repeatedly brings the issue up, saying that undocumented immigrants cost the United States “hundreds of billions in healthcare costs, housing costs, education costs, welfare costs, etc.”
A 2010 report from the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a conservative group that supports tighter immigration restrictions, estimates that illegal immigrants cost U.S. taxpayers $113 billion annually, with the bulk of those costs being absorbed by state and local governments.
However, people who are n the U.S. illegally do pay some taxes.
The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy — which bills itself as a non-profit, non-partisan research organization that works on tax policy issues — estimates undocumented immigrants pay about $11.64 billion a year in state and local taxes.
However, the truth is that no one knows exactly how much undocumented immigrants cost the nation or how much they pay into it.
“Anytime you’re analyzing something for which the first adjective describing it is ‘undocumented’, that makes it a little harder to measure,” said Matt Gardner, executive director of the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP). “But yes, absolutely these data should be interpreted as a best guess.”
The point, Gardner says, is that illegal immigrants pay a significant amount into the system.
“If you listened to the policy debates that are happening, whether it’s from candidates or from people who are already in office, you would think the answer is ‘zero’,” he said. “It’s a lot bigger than zero; $11.6 billion a year is a meaningful amount of revenue for state and local governments.”
ITEP estimates undocumented immigrants would contribute an additional $2.1 billion annually if they were granted legal status as part of comprehensive immigration reform and allowed to work legally.
There are more than 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States, about half of whom are Mexican. They make up about 3.5 percent of the nation’s population and are mostly concentrated in California, Texas, Florida, New York, New Jersey and Illinois. The question of how much of a drain immigrants are on the system remains an open one.
A 2007 report prepared by the Congressional Budget Office estimated, “tax revenues of all types generated by immigrants — both legal and unauthorized — exceed the cost of the [federal] services they use.” However, the same report also concluded that the tax revenues generated by unauthorized immigrants do not offset the total cost of services state and local governments provide to those immigrants.
Education is the largest single expenditure for state and local governments when it comes to illegal immigrants. Some view that expense as an investment in the nation’s future.
“What you gain in the long run is healthy, well-educated members of the workforce, the building blocks for the economy, for the factories, for the services, for everything we produce as a nation over the next 50 years,” Gardner said. “In the end, what we’re building is a workforce. That’s what every state needs, that’s what the U.S. needs to stay competitive in the future.”
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