Immigration is exclusively a federal responsibility, but all states, like California, must pay for federally mandated medical, educational, and social services for immigrants. As Newsweek recently reported, 10.4 percent of all new immigrants received welfare in 1990, as compared to 7.7 percent of native-born Californians, and each immigrant welfare check was on average more than 10 percent greater than that of the native born. Currently some two million illegal immigrants and their half-million citizen-children in California cost over $5.3 billion annually just for Medi-Cal, criminal incarcerations, education, and AFDC. Meanwhile the state’s population is growing at more than 2.2 percent per year, greater than that of either India or Pakistan. This, plus the more than 600,000 (mostly immigrant) annual newcomers to California, brings a spiraling demand for public services that state revenues are unable to meet.
Granted that California’s revenues are declining as the result of a two-year recession, Governor Pete Wilson is correct in identifying “out of control” immigration as an essential problem for which past U.S. legislators and Presidents Reagan and Bush are responsible. Nor has President Clinton delivered much more than sound bites on the issue. For example, he recommended strengthening the border patrol by 600 persons, something Congress had already authorized last year.
Despite promises to control illegal immigration under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) through employer sanctions, which would fine employers hiring illegal immigrants without proper identification and bring more border patrolmen and internal enforcement, our duly elected politicians have cynically failed to provide the resources to do the job. Nor, as required under IRCA, has a secure identifier been developed for employment purposes, despite the widespread use of fraudulent documents by more than three million illegal aliens working in the United States. The border patrol is still 2,000 agents below the level authorized by Congress in 1986. Budget restrictions have severely cut INS internal investigations of employers hiring illegal aliens. Due to lack of detention facilities, over 250,000 so-called asylees are working with permits while they await adjudicated hearings that could take decades at the current rate of hearings. Fewer than one-third of the asylees even bother to show up. The great majority are believed to be economic refugees, not “true” asylees who are being persecuted for their political views.
To make matters worse, in 1989, as the United States slid into a recession and unemployment escalated. Congress and President Bush eagerly embraced the Immigration Act of 1990, which increased legal immigration by 40 percent. In 1991 alone, legal immigration, including IRCA amnesties, reached 1.8 million. And legal immigration flows will remain at one million or more yearly under current law, a total greater than the number of immigrants admitted by the rest of the industrial countries combined.
Is immigration, legal and illegal, good for the American economy? The Wall Street Journal‘s editorial pages and their hired academic gun Dr. Julian Simon would lead the reader to believe so. So too would the Ford Foundation-financed Urban Institute and its cohort of pro-immigration academic writers, such as Jeffrey Passel and Rebecca Clark. None of the above has yet found an immigrant who costs more than he pays in taxes. But supporters of open borders and cheap-labor policies, while good for the bottom line of many businesses hiring low-cost immigrants and for those hiring minimum-wage nannies, are quite harmful to the working class competing with them, as well as to the American taxpayers picking up the public service costs of immigrants.
To determine comprehensively how immigrants are affecting the American taxpayer required a study at the national level. A study of this magnitude was made possible for the first time only by newly available empirical data, including the 1990 census and other key governmental reports, additional new research by the Auditor General of California and the County of Los Angeles, and new field research by myself and economists George Borjas, David Card, Joseph Altonji, Vernon Briggs, and David Simcox.
After one year spent gathering, studying, and analyzing the data, I concluded that immigrants cost the American taxpayer more than $42.5 billion in 1992 alone (i.e., all legal immigrants arriving in the United States since 1970 plus the total of all illegal and amnestied immigrants residing here in 1992). The final study is 83 pages in length and includes 23 tables with 22 categories of costs to federal and state governments, ten categories of services provided by local governments, plus five categories of assistance costs for American workers displaced from their jobs by immigrant workers. Total gross costs were $62.7 billion, from which were subtracted $20.2 billion in state, federal, and local taxes paid by immigrants, resulting in net costs of $42.5 billion in 1992.
The largest direct national public outlays for immigrants in 1992 were: primary and secondary education, $13.2 billion; Medicaid, $8.5 billion; local health and welfare services, $7.8 billion; bilingual education, $2.9 billion; and Aid to Families with Dependent Children, $2.8 billion. The costs of the displacement of 2.07 million American workers idled by immigration, which took their willingness to work at jobs like those done by illegal immigrants, totaled $11.9 billion for Medicaid, AFDC, unemployment compensation, food stamps, and General Assistance programs. The study also projected public assistance costs over the decade 1993 to 2002 should immigration laws not be changed. The net annual cost to the American taxpayer would average $67 billion per year in 1992 dollars, a net total of $668.5 billion after taxes over the decade.
Not included in the above are environmental costs that accompany population growth, such as compliance with clean air and water acts, preservation of wetlands, and toxic waste disposal. One example of such costs are the uncompensated environmental costs of operating motor vehicles. Driving costs for all legal and illegal immigrants were $17.2 billion in 1992 and are projected to total $144.7 billion for the next ten years in 1993 dollars.
It is important to realize that almost three-quarters of the above costs are incurred by legal immigrants, not illegal aliens. Therefore, Governor Wilson was wrong when he singled out illegal immigrants. In fact, newly arriving legal immigrants annually outnumber illegal immigrants 3 to 1, while they also have higher per capita public assistance costs than do illegals—$2,940 vs. $2,103 yearly.
Nationwide, 65 percent of Americans favor reductions in immigration. Is this indicative of xenophobia or racism as claimed by some immigrant advocates? I believe not. National polls by U.S. News Today, Newsweek, and others substantiate that most Americans, including a majority of minorities, believe that their long-term economic interests are hurt by large-scale immigration.
President Clinton once told an enraged San Diego audience that the United States is powerless to stop illegal immigration. Can a nation that stopped Saddam Hussein’s 500,000-man army in its tracks claim that it is unable to stop illegal immigration? Or is our legislative process so gridlocked that laws not in our interest, such as the 1964 family reunification immigration law, cannot be altered? What we are facing is not a lack of capability. It is a lack of will and understanding, partly because of powerful disinformation and misinformation efforts by the above-mentioned organizations, by Hispanic political groups such as MALDEF and LULAC, and by media such as the New York Times.
In the meantime, the few gaining from the current situation—businesses fattening up on cheap immigrant labor, bleeding-heart humanitarians who are oblivious to the pain their actions are causing others, and yuppies needing minimum-wage nannies—will continue their assault upon the rest of society (the taxpaying public and the American work force increasingly facing job displacement and wage depression) until fundamental changes are made in our immigration policies.
It is time to initiate a national debate on the current policy of large-scale immigration into the United States. This debate should be kept on a constructive, rational plane rather than yield to the charges of racism and scapegoating typically brought by immigration advocates against those who raise questions about their policies. Fortunately, the sting of the charge of racism as a tactic of intimidation seems to be diminishing. Larger majorities now appear ready to do what they believe is right for America rather than succumb to being politically correct. In the meantime, masses of Americans are departing the geographic regions where immigrants are agglomerating, such as Miami, New York, and California. One hundred thousand left California last year alone.
The realization that we have as a people been sliding toward second-class status for over two decades may yet awaken the citizenry who have been slumbering. It is late, but not too late to perceive great danger, understand its sources, and act with wisdom and dispatch. Immigration is not our only problem, but it is one of our most fundamental and pernicious.