The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), anti-immigrant organization released a report trying to make the case that undocumented immigrants impose a fiscal burden on native-born Americans. This is a baseless argument that FAIR makes repeatedly. It rests on assumptions about the impact that undocumented immigrants and their children have on the U.S. economy.
FAIR begins its miscalculations by inflating the number of undocumented immigrants living in the United States. Rather than relying upon the standard estimate of 11 million put forth by organizations like the Pew Research Center, FAIR adds another million-and-a-half to the total.
According to FAIR, migrants who exist in some sort of quasi-legal immigration status, such as those who have received Temporary Protected Status (TPS), are also considered “undocumented” because their reprieve from deportation is supposed to be temporary.
Beyond exaggerating the numbers of undocumented immigrants, FAIR increases its cost estimates through some creative accounting related to the millions of native-born, U.S.-citizen children who have at least one parent who is an undocumented immigrant.
Anti-immigrant organization and their creative finances
consuming schooling and medical care for which their parents don’t pay enough in taxes to cover. In fact, the nativist organization figures that native-born children of undocumented immigrants, as well as the smaller number of children who are undocumented, cost $43.4 billion per year on the taxpayer’s tab for public schooling alone.
This method of accounting ignores one fact: children are expensive no matter where they were born or what legal status they have. Children use educational and health services that impose costs on the state governments that provide those services, and for which they pay nothing because they don’t have jobs and pay taxes. This applies to the native-born children of native-born Americans as much as it does to the children of undocumented immigrants. And yet FAIR views these two groups of children very differently.
When the native-born children of native-born Americans leave school, join the workforce, and become taxpayers, those taxes are counted against the costs they incurred when they were children. But when the native-born children of undocumented immigrants start collecting paychecks, the taxes which are extracted from those paychecks are not counted against the costs which they incurred when they were on the “undocumented” side of the ledger. Rather, the native-born population gets the fiscal credit when these children become taxpayers, while the undocumented population gets blamed for the costs when they are young.
The most accurate way to estimate the economic impact of any person, immigrant or native, is to look at the totality of the contributions they make and services they utilize over the course of their lifetime. Contributions are measured not only in terms of taxes, but also consumer purchasing power and entrepreneurship.
FAIR persists in taking a limited single-year fiscal snapshot of the U.S. population which tells us very little about the actual economic impact that immigrants have on the nation as a whole or native-born Americans in particular.