ANALYSIS: Grover Norquist debunks Heritage Foundation’s claims that immigration reform will add $6.3 trillion to the deficit

Grover Norquist, President of Americans for Tax Reform. SOURCE: Joint Economic Committee

ANALYSIS:

Grover Norquist, arguably the country’s most feared anti-tax crusader and deficit hawk, debunked the Heritage Foundation’s claim that immigration reform would add $6.3 trillion to the deficit, calling the conservative think tank’s report “not very accurate.”

The Heritage Foundation’s report titled “The Fiscal Cost of Unlawful Immigrants and Amnesty to the U.S. Taxpayer” pegged the cost of giving legal status and offering a pathway to citizenship to the estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants at $6.3 trillion over 50 years.

Under the Senate’s Gang of Eight proposal, immigrants who are currently unauthorized will be granted provisional legal status for 10 years, requiring them to undergo a series of background checks, before they can apply for citizenship and then wait 3 more years before they can be eligible to receive federal benefits.

The Heritage study estimated that after the 13-year window expires, former unauthorized immigrants would receive about $9.4 trillion in government benefits – including public education, police, fire, highways, public infrastructure, Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance, worker’s compensation, Obamacare, and more than 80 means-tested welfare programs – but pay only $3.1 trillion in taxes over a 50-year span, resulting in a deficit of $6.3 trillion.

The report justified the high costs by pointing out that the “typical unlawful immigrant is 34-years-old, has a 10th grade education”, implying that they hold lower-income jobs and, thus, are more likely to seek government assistance. The report stated that “after amnesty, the typical unlawful immigrant will receive government benefits for 50 years.”

(Based on the numbers used in the Heritage study, this means that the typical immigrant will begin receiving government benefits from age 47 for 50 years, which assumes that the typical immigrant will live until age 97. According to the Center for Disease Control, the average U.S. life expectancy, as of 2010, is 78.7 years – about 19 years less than the Heritage Foundation’s immigrant life expectancy assumption.)

Testifying before the Joint Economic Committee, Norquist pointed out that the Heritage Foundation’s $6.3 trillion figure is inflated because it includes the “educational costs” of legal immigrants and children who are U.S. citizens but born to immigrant parents.

“They added costs of legal immigrants – people who are here legally – and stick them in the $6 [trillion]. Educating a five-year-old who’s born in this country, who’s a citizen, is not a cost of passing the Senate bill. That’s going to be there [regardless of immigration reform],” Norquist explained.

Furthermore, the Heritage study is flawed because much of the costs it cited are costs that “are there anyway”, according to Norquist.

He explained that more than half of the costs that the Heritage study attributed to unauthorized immigrants are the costs of education of U.S.-born children, who are American citizens.

“So like 40% of the cost is education and 80% of those people are citizens now. So they stick that on as if it was a cost of the legislation,” said Norquist. “You take those numbers that Heritage puts out on entitlement, it’s an argument against having children. I mean, children tend to be much younger than immigrants. Their English is much more limited. They don’t work very often, and they’re going to get a lot more out of the entitlement program than they put in. But that’s a bad argument against children; it’s a good argument for reforming entitlements.”

Norquist said the high cost of entitlement programs – particularly Social Security and Medicare – “has nothing to do immigration” because the programs are structured in such a way that everybody will receive more benefits than they pay in – regardless of their immigrant status.

“Somebody who’s going to retire at 2030 is going to collect $650,000 on average in Social Security and Medicare but only pay $494,000. So a little more than $150,000 for everybody – they’re going to get more than they pay out. That’s true for everyone in the country. That’s true for people who are born here; that’s true for people whose relatives came over on the Mayflower. Has nothing to do with our immigration policy,” said Norquist.

In his written testimony, Norquist stressed the need to reform the country’s entitlement programs but pointed that the unsustainable entitlement spendings shouldn’t be used as an argument against higher levels of immigration (or having more children, for that matter), which he argued are needed to grow the U.S. economy in the coming decades.

“The American entitlement crisis exists regardless of past, present, and future immigration levels, and must be dealt with no matter the levels of inward migration we allow moving forward,” he wrote.

Norquist’s refutation of the Heritage Foundation’s findings would likely enfeeble the popular “cost” argument used by conservative lawmakers to block the Senate’s immigration reform bill.

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