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Old 04-04-2010, 11:44 AM
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Default Studies feed immigration debate

Thomas D. Elias: Studies feed immigration debate
By Thomas D. Elias
Posted: 04/03/2010 09:54:21 PM PDT

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 citizens 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, an adviser to former President Bill Clinton, claims legalizing the estimated 12million 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 underclass 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 3million 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 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, also told 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.
Thomas D. Elias is a syndicated columnist who covers California issues (e-mail: For more Elias columns, visit
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