Undocumented immigrants’ economic impact unclear in Texas

By Matthew Waller, Times Record News, Wichita Falls, Texas

Aug. 24– AUSTIN — The plans to fix immigration came out to the forefront this past week, as with current GOP front-runner Donald Trump releasing his own plan and the various critiques.

It’s a fair time to return to the question: What effect do immigrants living in the country illegally have on the economy, that other all-important political football?

Much has been noted that, on the federal level, immigrants living in the country illegally do pay payroll taxes in many cases and thereby contribute. But what about Texas?

The Federation for American Immigration Reform, a group from D.C., put out a paper in 2013 arguing that immigrants take more than they give when it comes to state services.

According to the federation, in 2013 illegal immigration cost the taxpayers of Texas around $12.1 billion.

Meanwhile, immigrants living in the country illegally contributed state taxes — including sales taxes, property taxes, alcohol taxes and cigarette taxes — but that figure only came out to $1.27 billion.

The breakdown was $8.5 billion for K-12 education and supplemental English instruction, $1.9 billion through health care, $1.1 billion in policing, court and incarceration costs, $47.8 million in public assistance and $577 million in governmental services.

It’s the lack of income and education that causes the lower rung of contribution, said Ira Mehlman, spokesman with the federation.

“For the most part, the people who are coming here illegally are poorly educated or poorly skilled,” and they tend to earn a lifetime of poor wages, Mehlman said.

“The biggest myth is that they provide cheap labor,” he said. “They provide subsidized labor. The taxpayers get a lot of bills.”

This isn’t an issue just with illegal immigration, however. Mehlman expressed concern that legal immigrants are admitted irrespective of education and job skills. And provisions to have a sponsor in the country to help are “never enforced,” he said.

What should be noted is that the number by which the federation calculated benefits includes children born in the United States of immigrants living in the country illegally.

Mehlman said those children wouldn’t be in the United States if not for illegal immigration and would probably stay with a parent, should the parent return to his or her home country.

“The number certainly would be smaller,” Mehlman said.

On the other side of the spectrum, the Center for Public Policy Priorities put out a report called ” Immigrants Drive the Texas Economy: Economic Benefits of Immigrants to Texas,” which calculates the effect of Texas immigration as a whole. One out of six people in Texas, 4.2 million, are immigrants.

Meanwhile, about 1.7 million immigrants are unauthorized, according to the center. The report cites the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy as saying that in Texas unauthorized immigrants in 2010 paid more than $1.6 billion in state and local taxes.

Immigrants as a whole contributed $65 billion in economic output for the state in wages, salary and business earnings, the report states.

Ann Beeson, the executive director of the center, said numbers dividing the unauthorized population in the shadows aren’t easy to come by.

“There actually isn’t good research that divides documented and undocumented immigrants,” Beeson said.

In removing the unauthorized population, “I don’t have any doubt that the economy would deeply suffer,” Beeson said.

That immigrants are a burden on the economy is a myth, Beeson said.

“Immigrants are more likely to be working than U.S.-born counterparts,” she said.

Meanwhile, Texas’ former governor, Rick Perry, has sidestepped the issue of dealing with immigrants already in the country.

His take is that illegal immigration is a symptom of a disease that is the unsecure Texas border.

“This is not rocket science … the key is, you’ve got to secure the border,” Perry said on Fox News this week. “It’s like a disease. You go to the absolute core of what it is.”

Matthew Waller covers state news as the Austin Bureau chief. Contact him at matthew.waller@caller.com and follow him on Twitter @waller_matthew.


(c)2015 the Times Record News (Wichita Fallas, Texas)

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