Immigration reforms that increase the number of low-skilled workers entering the United States threaten to impose a high cost on taxpayers, says a study being released today.
The Heritage Foundation report calculates that for every $1 unskilled workers pay in taxes they receive about $3 in government benefits, including Medicaid, food stamps, public housing and other welfare programs.
It should serve as a warning to President Bush and lawmakers proposing to give illegal aliens a so-called path to citizenship or what critics call amnesty, said Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, which handles immigration bills.
“We need to make sure any legislation does not further strain government services and taxpayers’ wallets,” said Mr. Smith, who will make public the report for the conservative Washington think tank today.
The report on low-skilled workers, who are defined as those without a high school diploma, did not focus on immigrants, but its authors say 25 percent of legal immigrants and 50 percent of illegal aliens fall into the category. About 9 percent of native-born Americans lack a high school diploma.
Using data from 2004, the report shows the average household headed by a low-skilled worker paid $9,689 in taxes but received $32,138 in benefits a year. The more than $22,000 difference is the “tax burden” which rises to $1.1 million over the worker’s lifetime.
Mr. Bush has called for legalizing the estimated 12 million to 20 million illegal aliens in the United States, and for a new program to allow more foreign workers in the future.
He faces opposition from many congressional Republicans who say allowing illegal aliens to remain amounts to amnesty. They also want Mr. Bush to focus on better immigration enforcement before beginning a new guest-worker program.
Chief among the critics is Rep. Brian P. Bilbray, chairman of the Immigration Reform Caucus, who hailed the study.
“The Heritage Foundation report proves what we already know, that illegal immigration is a drain to the American people,” the California Republican said. “At more than $22,000 a year, it’s like having the American taxpayers buy everyone who doesn’t have a high school diploma a brand new Ford Mustang convertible.”
Eric Rodriguez, deputy vice president of the National Council of La Raza, the country’s largest Hispanic civil rights organization, said studies frequently overlook significant contributions immigrants make to the economy.
“A lot of the more recent studies we’ve seen show that more undocumented workers are contributing to Social Security and they will never be eligible for Social Security benefits,” Mr. Rodriguez said. “A lot of that tends not to be captured by these types of studies.”
In 2004, according to the Heritage Foundation report, the country had 17.7 million low-skilled households that together cost taxpayers $397 billion that year. Those households, without an influx of new unskilled workers, will cost at least $3.9 trillion over the next 10 years.
The Heritage Foundation plans to release a separate analysis focused solely on low-skilled immigrant households in the next few weeks.
Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.