Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Cost of Legalization

Congress is currently mulling the question whether to put illegal immigrants on a track to citizenship. One of the aspects of this debate that hasn't received too much attention, perhaps because it's an inconvenient subject, is what amnesty of illegals will cost the taxpayer. The Heritage Foundation has done the math and their sums are not encouraging:
The comprehensive immigration overhaul being taken up in the Senate this week could cost taxpayers $6.3 trillion if 11 million illegal immigrants are granted legal status, according to a long-awaited estimate by the conservative Heritage Foundation.
This $6.3 trillion figure is based on the assumption that there are 11 million illegals in the country. Some estimates are almost twice that.
The cost would arise from illegal immigrants tapping into the government's vast network of benefits and services, many of which are currently unavailable to them. This includes everything from standard benefits like Social Security and Medicare to dozens of welfare programs ranging from housing assistance to food stamps.
The report has it's critics:
The study is already coming under criticism from some groups and economists who challenge its assumptions, claiming the legalization would help fuel economic growth. Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint, though, defended the study ahead of its release Monday morning.

"There's no way you can look at this and say that it's good for the American taxpayer," he told Fox News.
Perhaps the most startling calculation in the Heritage study is an estimate that over the course of their lifetimes illegal immigrant households would receive an average of $592,000 in government benefits.

I've several times over the last few years expressed my opinion on Viewpoint (Go here and scroll down for a couple of past posts on illegal immigration) that illegal aliens should be granted a kind of amnesty, once it is determined beyond reasonable doubt that the border is secure, but it should be an amnesty that grants only the opportunity to live and work here (as long as they obey the law). No one who broke our laws to cross our borders should be rewarded with citizenship and the consequent benefits to which that citizenship would entitle them.

These folks often risked much to come here, but they came here for the opportunity to work, not to be made citizens. Trying to deport them at this point would be a moral and logistical nightmare which a compassionate people should surely balk at attempting. On the other hand, a just people should have a high regard for the law and be loath to set it aside for political convenience.

The kind of amnesty that allows these people to stay in the U.S. without being harassed by the immigration authorities, but which does not make them eligible for citizenship strikes the proper balance, I think, between compassion and justice.