The Washington Post is usually not the best newspaper, but it’s not above some surprises. Last Monday, they printed an excellent rebuttal to the report co-authored by the obviously racist Jason Richwine, which really digs deep into three major intellectual failings in their report on the “cost” to granting undocumented immigrants amnesty and full citizenship. I don’t have the time today to do a proper post, so I’ll let this be a let-me-link-you that’s hopefully enlightening about exactly how wrong the Heritage Foundation’s report was.
To begin with, it’s not exactly a measurement of the cost of changing the millions of undocumented people’s statuses, so much as the larger macroeconomic effect. As a result, it has to at least roughly model the current economic circumstances in order to compare them with a hypothetical future where amnesty and citizenship have been granted to the vast majority of currently undocumented people. Except they make some questionable decisions about how to approximate both the current and that potential economy.
Starting with our world – they effectively pretend that the most regressive aspects of our tax system don’t exist. According to the Washington Post the study omits the “mortgage interest tax deduction, the charitable deduction, the employer health-care tax exclusion, the preferential treatment of capital and dividend income” among other “massive benefits” to primarily wealthy individuals. In short, they’re biasing their comparison by making it seem as though a disproportionate portion of public benefits in the US are paid for by the most wealthy in the United States.
That might seem irrelevant, but given how they presume much lower use of public resources by people who are currently undocumented, meaning that the wealthy who typically have legal residency statuses are presented as effectively covering the poor, but only those that also aren’t undocumented. In short, they’re creating the impression that our current fiscal conditions are much healthier than they actually are – with fewer people deprived of basic services or needs (by arbitrarily deciding that undocumented people don’t currently count) and more people contributed their personal reserves of wealth to public benefit (through a more progressive taxation system than we actually have).
(Unfortunately this is what’s actually happened over the past few decades, from here.)
Those deceptions alone would have probably undermined any meaningful conclusion from the comparison Heritage set up in this study. That said, they don’t leave it there – they also presume that extending legal residency status (and ideally citizenship) to currently undocumented people won’t result in them being able to access hiring paying work or more effectively lobby for better pay (among other economic benefits). The degree of ignorance that shows about how a lack of legal residency status is used to exploit people within the current economy is astounding.
The Washington Post actually points directly to one study, which points to a conservative 15 percent increase in average income and a less cautious estimate of a 25 percent increase, as a counterpoint to this categorical belief that the lots of the currently undocumented won’t be improved by amnesty or at least significant reforms. Between more immigrants reporting their incomes and those immigrants having more income in the first place, there’s a clear reasoning behind why changing their statuses would translate into some growth in the tax pool, which would potentially cover any increase in service use by currently undocumented people.
In essence, this comparison between the current economy and this hypothetical one “wrecked” by immigrants rests on three major misconceptions of how the world actually works. It’s working towards the conclusion that granting immigrants rights and privileges would be ruinous, which it can only support by presenting the status quo as healthier than it actually is and imagining amnesty as simultaneously resulting in a run on public services but no other major economic impact. My hats off to the Washington Post for actually getting into the details to how Heritage lied.