Immigration Myths and Facts

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MYTH: Immigrants are a drain on our social services.

FACT: By paying taxes and Social Security, immigrants contribute far more to government coffers than they use in social services.

In its landmark report published in 1997—arguably the most thorough national study to date of immigration’s fiscal impacts—the National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academy of Sciences concluded that on average, immigrants generate public revenue that exceeds their public costs over time—approximately $80,000 more in taxes than they receive in state, federal and local benefits over their life times. This same conclusion was reached in 2007 by the Council of Economic Advisers in their report to the Executive Office of the President where they state that “the long-run impact of immigration on public budgets is likely to be positive,” and agree with the NRC report’s view that “only a forward-looking projection of taxes and government spending can offer an accurate picture of the long-run fiscal consequences of admitting new immigrants.”

Indeed, most non-citizens are not even eligible for the majority of welfare programs unless they are legal permanent residents and have resided in the United States legally for at least five years. This includes benefits such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), SSI, Medicaid, and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).

Moreover, according to government reports, non citizens are much less likely than citizens to use the benefits for which they are eligible. For example, immigrants, especially the undocumented, tend to use medical services much less than the average American. In fact, the average immigrant uses less than half the dollar amount of health care services as the average native-born citizen. Moreover, the claim that immigrants account for high rates of emergency room (ER) visits is refuted by research; in fact, communities with high rates of ER usage tend to have relatively small percentages of immigrant residents.

Likewise, according to Department of Agriculture reports, non citizens who are eligible for food stamps are significantly less likely to use them than are all other individuals who are eligible for the program. For example, about 45 percent of eligible non citizens received food stamps in 2002, compared to almost 60 percent of eligible individuals overall.

Most of the fiscal impact from immigration is felt at the state and local levels. The Council of Economic Advisors points out in its report to the Executive Office of the President that “the positive fiscal impact tends to accrue at the federal level, but the net costs tend to be concentrated at the state and local level,” which bear primary responsibility for providing not only health care but education.

Still, according to recent studies from a number of cities and states—including the states of Arizona, Texas, Minnesota, California, New York, North Carolina and Arkansas, and cities or counties of Chicago and Santa Clara—while the cost of educating the children of immigrants may be high, the overall economic benefits of immigrants to the states remain positive. A University of Illinois study found that undocumented immigrants in the Chicago metropolitan area alone spent $2.89 billion in 2001, stimulating an additional $5.45 billion in total local spending and sustaining 31,908 jobs in the local economy.

The Udall Center at the University of Arizona found that the fiscal costs of immigrants, starting with education, totaled $1.41 billion in 2004, which, balanced against $1.64 billion in state tax revenue attributable to immigrants as workers, resulted in a fiscal gain of $222.6 million. Similarly, in its Special Report about undocumented immigrants in Texas, the Comptroller of IMMIGRANTS’ RIGHTS PROJECT Date created: January 25, 2008 Public Accounts found that in 2005, even counting the costs associated with education, “the state revenues collected from undocumented immigrants exceed what the state spent on services, with the difference being $424.7 million.”

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