Friday, April 2, 2010




If the UCLA and USC professors whose studies early this year concluded that allowing illegal immigrants to stay in America would provide a huge boost to the economy thought their findings might end one of this country’s longest-running policy and moral debates, they were sadly mistaken.

For the battle over illegal immigrants and whether they should be permitted some path to eventual citizenship actually heated up after those reports appeared.

On one side, the studies’ authors and others insist that legalizing the currently undocumented would produce wage increases, increase tax receipts at all levels of government, up the consumption of consumer goods and create jobs.

The other side says that is probably baloney, but even if it’s true, it would still come at the expense of American citizen workers who desperately want and need at least some of the jobs now taken by illegals.

What’s constructive in all this is the perspective it lends to the longtime argument over how much illegal immigration costs state and local governments or whether the undocumented actually pay their own way via sales and gasoline taxes, property taxes (included in their rent payments) and other levies, including those on utility and telephone bills.

The anti-immigrant lobby argues that illegals cost California about $7 billion per year for services like public education and emergency medical care. But some studies say they pay in more than that in the obvious taxes – plus an unknown amount in state and federal income tax. Plus, since many use counterfeit Social Security cards to obtain jobs, another unknown amount is paid to that system for accounts that will never be drawn upon. Which means illegals are actually subsidizing Social Security.

But no one had previously assessed the costs and benefits of illegal immigration for the general national economy, of which California makes up more than 12 percent even in today’s lean times.

Now come the supposedly impartial Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda, associate professor of Chicana and Chicano studies at UCLA; and Manuel Pastor, a geography and American studies professor and co-director of the USC Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration. Hinojosa-Ojeda, a former advisor to ex-President Bill Clinton, claims legalizing the estimated 12 million illegals now in the United States would produce a $1.5 trillion benefit to the economy over 10 years – about $12,500 per year per legalized immigrant over current levels. Pastor says legalizing the approximately 3 million illegals in California would immediately increase state and local taxes by about $350 million a year.

This would happen because of the increased wages legalization would bring, the consumer goods the newly legalized would buy and the taxes they would pay on their increased income. Plus, legalizing many of the undocumented would drive wages up for almost everyone, because there would presumably no longer be an easily exploited under-class available for employers to play off against U.S. citizens and legal immigrant workers.

Under that reasoning, deporting 360,000 Mexicans back to their home country – as the U.S. did in just the first 11 months of last year – actually meant a $4.5 billion overall loss to the American economy in 2009 alone. Hinojosa-Ojeda reports he reached his conclusions using data on what became of the 3 million former illegals who achieved permanent resident status or citizenship via the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which was signed by then-President Ronald Reagan.

Not everyone believes all this, of course. Skeptics wonder why, if illegals would be so productive here if granted amnesty, they weren’t similarly productive in their home countries.

And there’s the issue of American-born workers. Immigration amnesty advocates maintain newly legalized workers don’t cost American citizens many jobs.

But the anti-illegal immigrant Center of Immigration Studies (CIS) in Washington, D.C., contends that’s not so. There is no proof on either side, but CIS research director Steven Camarota maintains “The big losers are native-born Americans who compete with (illegals) for jobs, wages and scarce public resources.”

Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, another anti-illegal immigrant group, added to a reporter “Basic common sense tells the American public that when you have double-digit unemployment, granting amnesty is not a good idea.” But he offered no evidence.

The bottom line is that there is no consensus on the net costs and benefits of illegal immigration, but one thing is certain: The new studies add a completely different perspective to the debate, providing unprecedented ammunition for advocates of legalization.

Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit


  1. I appreciate your references to some of the scholarly research on this divisive subject. We all have our biases, but some of us are interested in looking at the evidence and willing to change our preconceived notions when they are inconsistent with the evidence.

    After a debate on the topic among family members last summer I tried to determine what if anything illegal aliens might be costing the rest of us taxpayers. I found that estimates of the net cost/benefit of illegal aliens to the national budget and gross national product vary widely.
    I did not found any studies that consider every cost and every benefit. I did find one that did consider most if not all costs, and their payments by illegal aliens to the national government, but not the benefits to US businesses and the resulting increased taxes paid by those businesses. (Anecdotal conversations with farmers and reports in the media indicate that farmers commonly choose to plant less profitable crops rather than risk not being able to get labor to harvest more profitable crops.) That paper (I can't find it right now) suggests that because of the low earning capacity of immigrants, government agencies spend $300 more on each illegal immigrant than illegal immigrants pay government agencies. I found a March 2002 estimate that there were then 9.2 million illegal immigrants in the U S.
    If we accept the $300/immigrant cost and the 9.2 million immigrants number we get a total cost of $2.76 billion.

    In 2003 there were 130,728,360 individual income tax returns filed.
    Using these numbers we get a cost of $21 per taxpayer. To put this $21 cost into perspective, the savings and loan bailout of the 1980s cost each taxpayer about $1000. The recent bank bailout is expected to cost each taxpayer about $10,000, and the Iraq war is expected to cost each taxpayer about $40,000.

    On the other hand, several economists have proposed that admitting 1.6 million middle aged, skilled immigrants
    each year could fix the difficulty funding social security and medicare.

    Although the jury is still out, it appears to me that illegal aliens neither cost nor benefit us greatly. There are other issues that are far more costly. I have known, worked and played with many illegal aliens from many countries, and found almost all of them to be fine, hard working, trustworthy people. I think they enrich our culture, and if they cost me a few dollars a year I am happy to pay that for the pleasure of their company.

  2. I believe the numbers are far short, and the total cost to all states and the Federal Government is in excess of $300 Billion dollars. That equates to approsimately $1,000 for every man, woman and child in this country --EVERY YEAR, not one as described in bailouts etc.

    The solution is to collect this $1,000 per person in the form of an ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION TAX, as a sales tax on everything purchased in America. Then the proceeds would be sent to the states based on their pro-rata share of ilegals. How long would it take America to wakeup and see that this has to stop?? Not long!!!

  3. Nice propaganda in support of illegal immigration, If they contributed so much to the State of California, hwy California is Bankrupt?

  4. Nice propaganda in support of illegal immigration, if they contributed so much to the economic of California, why California is Bankrupt?
    I am Latino and I know what is going on, I question the loyalty of the Latinos, citizens of this United States are they loyal to the USA of Mexico the land that exploited them and make them economic slaves for many year. No one is forcing them to be here, if they love mexico they should go to Mexico; and if they are illegal here in our country, sorry but we have laws and they should respect our sovereignty, Mexico immigration laws is zero tolerance to illegal immigration and if they arrest you for violatio of their laws you go to jail, filthy jails, no uniform,no beds, no food, ect. the ACLU should go to Mexico to defend the Illegal aliens from central America.