- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 25, 2004

U.S. households headed by illegal aliens used $26.3 billion in government services during 2002 but paid only $16 billion in taxes, an annual cost to taxpayers of $10 billion, says a report issued yesterday by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS).

The report, based on U.S. Census Bureau data, also said if illegal aliens now in the country — estimated at between 8 million and 12 million — received amnesty, paid taxes and used services similar to households headed by legal immigrants, the estimated net deficit would increase from $10 billion to more than $29 billion.

“Many native-born Americans observe that their ancestors came to America and did not place great demands on government services,” said Steven A. Camarota, CIS director of research and the report’s author. “Perhaps this is true, but the size and scope of government were dramatically smaller during the last great wave of immigration.

“Not just means tested programs, but expenditures on everything from public schools to roads were only a fraction of what they are today,” he said. “The arrival of unskilled immigrants in the past did not have the negative fiscal implications that it does today.”

The 48-page report said among the largest government costs were Medicaid at $2.5 billion; treatment for the uninsured, $2.2 billion; food assistance programs and school lunches, $1.9 billion; the federal prison and court system, $1.6 billion; and federal aid to schools, $1.4 billion.

Katherine Culliton, spokeswoman for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund in Washington, D.C., disputed the report, saying many segments of the U.S. economy would collapse without the labor provided by illegal aliens in occupations such as agriculture, food service, construction and health care.

She also said a 1997 study by economists at Harvard and Princeton universities indicated that immigrants paid significantly more in taxes than noted in the CIS report and that the migrant population was essential because of the aging U.S. work force.

The CIS report said the estimates were only for the federal government, but costs at the state and local levels were likely to be significant. It said costs to the government of unskilled immigrants “simply reflect the nature of the modern American economy,” and cannot be avoided if the country’s immigration policies remain unchanged.

With nearly two-third of illegals in the United States lacking a high school diploma, the report said, the primary reasons they cause a deficit are low education levels and resulting low incomes and tax payments.

Amnesty programs increase costs because illegal aliens still would be largely unskilled, and their tax payments would continue to be modest, but once legalized they could access many more government services, the report said.

In January, President Bush proposed a guest-worker program that would allow millions of illegal aliens in the country to remain if they have jobs and apply as guest workers. Under the proposal, the aliens could stay for an undetermined number of renewable three-year periods, after which they could seek permanent legal status.

The program is supported in the Republican Party platform draft for the upcoming convention, despite opposition within the party.

The report said if the United States is serious about avoiding the fiscal costs of illegal immigration, the “only real option” is to enforce the country’s existing immigration law and reduce the number of illegal aliens in the United States.

But the report said policy-makers can expect strong opposition from special interest groups, especially ethnic advocacy organizations and those elements of the business community that do not want to invest in labor-saving devices or pay better salaries, but want access to large numbers of cheap, unskilled workers.

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