In his recent op-ed Alex Nowrasteh argues that we should increase our legal immigration system and grant amnesty to illegal immigrants in order to bolster our sluggish economy ("Free markets require increased legal immigration," Wednesday). There is a consensus among nonpartisan economists that low-skilled immigrants, both legal and illegal, are a fiscal drain on taxpayers.
Our immigration system does not always put American interests first; in fact, we select just 5 percent of our immigrants based on the skills and education they bring to the United States. We should change our immigration system to bring in more skilled labor to help improve our economy. But because immigrants admitted to the United States today are generally lower-skilled than American workers, they compete with low-skilled natives for scarce jobs and drive down wages.
A Harvard economist has estimated that immigration in recent decades has reduced the wages of native-born workers without a high school degree by nearly 9 percent. These vulnerable American workers have been especially hard hit by the ongoing recession. The unemployment rate for those with less than a high school diploma is more than 12 percent, about 4 percent higher than the national rate.
Low-skilled immigrants without a high school education very often pay little in taxes but receive huge amounts of taxpayer-funded benefits. In fact, the Heritage Foundation found that the average household headed by an immigrant without a high school degree receives more than $19,000 more in total government benefits each year than it pays in federal, state and local taxes. And the nonpartisan National Research Council found that an illegal immigrant without a high school degree will, over the course of his lifetime, impose a net cost on taxpayers of $89,000.
Granting amnesty to illegal immigrants will only cost taxpayers more money. Illegal immigrants already cost U.S. taxpayers billions annually and the Heritage Foundation reports that it will cost at least $2.5 trillion in retirement expenditures, including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income if they are granted amnesty. With so many of our entitlement programs on the verge of insolvency, it makes no sense to further jeopardize them.
We have the most generous immigration system in the world, admitting more than 1 million legal immigrants each year. This generosity should continue - but we must ensure our immigration system benefits American taxpayers and workers.
REP. LAMAR SMITH
Chairman, House Judiciary Committee
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