As each law hits the news, FAIR (and/or one or both of its sister organizations) issues neutrally worded reports portraying the undocumented as social and economic burdens. The studies point to the urgent need for passage of the immigration law in question.

In the wake of the passage of SB 1070, for instance, FAIR advanced to Fox News a copy of its new report on the alarming cost of illegal immigration in Arizona.

On May 17, Fox reported that "Arizona's illegal-immigrant population is costing the state's taxpayers even more than once thought — a whopping $2.7 billion, according to researchers at the public interest group that helped write the state's new immigration law."

A scene from the June 5
rally in Phoenix
Terry Greene Sterling
A scene from the June 5 rally in Phoenix
John Tanton's ties to white nationalists
have been questioned repeatedly.
www.johntanton.org
John Tanton's ties to white nationalists have been questioned repeatedly.

Details


SIDEBARS

Fantasy Voter Fraud

Bookworms

Mexican Macroeconomics

Whose Dole Is It, Anyway?


Editorís note: Former New Times staff writer Terry Greene Sterling is the author of the new book Illegal: Life and Death in Arizonaís Immigration War Zone and is writer-in-residence at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University. Jennifer Gaie Hellum assisted with research on white-nationalist groups. Sterling's personal Web site is www.terrygreenesterling.com.

The FAIR report helped galvanize support for SB 1070, and for its boosters, such as Pearce and Governor Jan Brewer, who told the Arizona Republic that she signed SB 1070 in part because she was "cognizant of what the impact of illegal immigration was doing to the state of Arizona in relation to cost."

But the FAIR report that Brewer, Pearce, and practically every other Arizona illegal-immigration politico relied on to get elected flies in the face of reality.

In the first place, FAIR's estimate of the unauthorized population in Arizona is unusually robust.

The Department of Homeland Security estimates 460,000 undocumented people live in Arizona. (Recently, the Pew Hispanic Center lowered its estimate to about 375,000.)

In contrast, FAIR reports that 500,000 costly illegal aliens live in Arizona.

And FAIR has added a new demographic to the expense column: children born in the United States to undocumented immigrants.

Despite their constitutionally guaranteed citizenship, these children represent a major "cost of illegal immigration," according to FAIR.

Nearly half of FAIR's $2.7 billion estimated cost of illegal immigration in Arizona involves expenses of U.S. children born to undocumented immigrants, without factoring in the obvious economic counterbalance — lifetimes of paying taxes, working, and consuming.

Adding these children to the expense column boosts Arizona's "cost of illegal immigration" to $2.7 billion, up from $1.3 billion in FAIR's 2004 report.

That's more than a 100 percent increase in supposed illegal-immigration costs during a dramatic decline in the state's population of undocumented immigrants.

Longtime FAIR staffer Jack Martin, who is not an economist but rather "a retired U.S. diplomat with consular experience," put the Arizona report together.


In July, Martin said that he included in his report U.S. children born to undocumented immigrants as a cost of illegal immigration because they "wouldn't be here" if their parents hadn't been in the country illegally.

And if Mom and Dad returned to Mexico, they'd take their American children with them, Martin declared.

Asked why these same American kids mysteriously disappear from his report once they become adults and offset the cost of their educations by paying taxes, consuming, and working, Martin offered no rational answer. He posited that once these children reach adulthood, they no longer represent a "cost of illegal immigration" because if their parents were to be deported, the adult children probably would stay in the United States.

In short, Martin could not explain away the accounting trick at the heart of the "report" that helped justify SB 1070.

In July, as politicians eyeballed SB 1070's popularity and drafted similar election-year legislation in other states, FAIR issued yet another report, "The Fiscal Burden of Illegal Immigration on United States Taxpayers."

This detailed report says illegal aliens cost American taxpayers $113 billion annually. It says each American household pays $1,117 yearly for illegal immigration. It says most illegal aliens don't pay taxes.

Such numbers can only outrage millions of penny-pinched Americans already anxious about their own futures in uncertain economic times. But once again, the numbers defy logic.

That's because the misleading techniques in the Arizona report were duplicated in the national report.

Start with the population estimate.

The Department of Homeland Security estimates that 10.8 million illegal immigrants lived in the United States in 2009, but the FAIR report estimates a much larger population: 13 million.

And, again, as in the Arizona report, the largest single "fiscal burden" of illegal immigration is tied to American children. FAIR says it costs taxpayers $52 billion to educate the children of illegal immigrants, and that includes more than 3 million American citizens born to one or more undocumented parents.

As with the Arizona report, the positive economic counterbalance to education costs (the adult lifetime of productivity, consumption, and taxpaying) is excluded from FAIR's calculations.

But contrary to FAIR's assertion, the consensus among many economists is that the U.S. government nets a profit from educating its children, because educated adults pay more taxes and contribute to the nation's productivity.

"Many government expenses related to immigrants are associated with their children," Michael Greenstone and Adam Looney write in "Ten Economic Facts About Immigration," recently published on behalf of the Brookings Institution. "Both the immigrant children and children of U.S.-born citizens are expensive when they are young because of the costs of investing in children's education and health. Those expenses, however, are paid back through taxes received over a lifetime of work. "

Giovanni Peri, an economist at the University of California-Davis and an expert on the contributions of immigrants to economies, tells New Times: "Education spending is always considered an investment, not a cost, because it adds to the productivity of the country."

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