Compassionate Immigration Reform Should Not Come for Free

The face of immigration reform now belongs to thousands of children illegally crossing the border seeking family and refuge. The crisis has increased the pressure for immediate reform dramatically.

But reform is stalled for more reasons than politicians mention or protests denounce. Some we can guess, based on each party’s philosophy. Other reasons, however, have more to do with cost analysis than compassion.

A recent report authored by Robert Rector and Jason Richwine of the Heritage Foundation took an in-depth look at the economic ramifications of immigration reform. Their key argument points to a damaging effect on U.S. taxpayers.

Government benefits are distributed lopsidedly, they say. Rector and Richwine suggest that each year, undocumented immigrants collect government benefits to the tune of $54.5 billion.

The report claims that the average American household receives $31,584 yearly in benefits between local, state and federal resources.

Heads of households who have a college education receive, on average, $24,839 in benefits, and they pay $54,089 in taxes. The government nets $29,250.

Heads of households who have less than a high school education, however, receive $46,582 in benefits, and they pay only $11,469 in taxes. The net “deficit” to the government is $35,113. All American taxpayers are footing that deficit. Not many are even aware of how large the gap is.

The large economic gap that education levels create is important to the immigration debate, as nearly 50 percent of illegal immigrants have less than a high school education. Only about 25 percent have completed study equivalent to high school or hold a diploma. Though they may contribute to the economy in other ways, many under-educated, undocumented workers simultaneously drain it.

Philosophical and political differences aside, the nation is already united in supporting under-educated, illegal immigrants though heavy tax imbalances. And if the number of immigrants with less education who are allowed to enter the country increases (whether through immigration reform or another route), the economic gap will escalate.

If undocumented immigrants become legalized residents of the United States, they will eventually have access to all government benefits. Unfortunately, because of the average balance of benefits to tax in many of these households, national benefit costs for the (then) documented immigrants would rise to approximately $106 billion yearly. Upon retirement with access to Medicare and Social Security, benefits would hit $160 billion.

Compassion for this first generation of illegal aliens has the potential to generate $6.3 trillion in lifetime government costs in benefits.

Compassionate immigration reform, based on the Heritage Foundation report numbers, should not be free. Policymakers must find a way to reach out to those crossing its borders without harming its current citizens.

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