Published May 17, 2010
Arizona’s illegal immigrant population is costing the state’s taxpayers even more than once thought -- a whopping $2.7 billion in 2009, according to researchers at the public interest group that helped write the state's new immigration law.
Researchers at FAIR – The Federation for American Immigration Reform -- released data exclusively to FoxNews.com that show a steady cost climb in multiple areas, including incarceration, education and health, in the last five years.
FAIR’s cost estimates – compiled for a comprehensive national immigration report it plans to release next month – include several new cost areas, including welfare and the justice system, that weren’t in previous reports.
FAIR admits that the cost to implement the new law in some of those categories, such as incarceration, will add to the economic strain on the state. But overall, it says, the loss of immigrants either from the deterrent effect of the law, voluntary exodus or from mass deportations, will help the state financially.
Also, the savings to the state will far overwhelm any fallout from boycotts (estimated at between $7 million and $52 million) being threatened in the wake of the law's passage, according to FAIR spokesman Bob Dane.
FAIR's new breakdown shows that illegal immigrants take $1.6 billion from Arizona's education system, $694.8 million from health care services, $339.7 million in law enforcement and court costs, $85.5 million in welfare costs and $155.4 million in other general costs.
The organization concedes that enforcing Arizona SB1070, the new law that allows local police to ask for immigration documents and arrest those who don’t have them, will increase the state’s incarceration costs, police training budgets and prosecution expenses -- but it says those numbers can’t yet be estimated with certainty. Also, it says, some of those costs will be offset by revenues from fines levied against businesses charged with knowingly hiring illegal immigrants, as well as from immigrants themselves who might be charged with minor crimes and fined before being deported.
But the Immigration Policy Center, a major opponent of the new law, says FAIR's data do not accurately portray SB1070's potential outcome. “They count the costs and don’t look at the benefits. We tend to look at the benefits more closely,” said Council spokeswoman Wendy Sefsaf.
“It is like having a roommate and counting how much they cost in toilet paper and incidentals without looking at the benefits of having help with the rent,” she said.
“Overall, every comprehensive study has shown that immigrants are a net benefit to states. If you add their children, they are a very great benefit.”
The Center’s cost crunching found that "if all unauthorized immigrants were removed from Arizona, the state would lose $26.4 billion in economic activity, $11.7 billion in gross state product and approximately 140,324 jobs,” -- a disaster for the Grand Canyon State.
But FAIR’s numbers tell a far different story.
(Because of the polarizing nature of the debate and the lack of solid figures on everything from the number of illegal immigrants in the state to how to accurately figure their share of the costs, there are no numbers either side agrees on or has not challenged.)
Jack Martin, the chief researcher on the report, says his data, in fact, do include benefits like the estimated $142.8 million in taxes paid by an estimated 500,000 illegal immigrants, and he says the Council’s numbers are unrealistic.
“They assume every illegal alien will leave right away," Martin said. "That is not going to happen.”
He said FAIR'S new estimates far exceed the report he wrote in 2004, which helped gain support for the passage of the Arizona law. In 2004, he said, he estimated that illegal immigrants cost the state $1.3 billion -- less than half the new estimate.
He said the new numbers put a reliable cost estimate on the economic impact of illegal immigration -- not just in Arizona, because the debate there largely ended with the passage of the immigration law, but nationally, as the debate spreads across the country.
”The numbers just keep growing,” Dane said.
Both Dane and Martin said that among FAIR’s most important findings was an estimate that tax revenues to the state will actually increase if illegal immigrants leave.
“We discovered after looking at places where big raids were made that salaries went up after the raids because employers now had to pay competitive wages to Americans.” Martin said. “And that will mean more money for the state.”