website and blog of Dr. Kevin D Glenn

Of Walls and bridges 2: Fiscal concerns

April 20, 2016

Are immigrants a fiscal drain on public resources?

 In addition to the job concerns raised in my previous post, immigration specialist and devout Christian, James R. Edwards, explains another economic concern often raised by Christians seeking to understand and respond to the immigration issue. “Immigrants who pay few taxes and draw heavily upon public services have been a significant burden on the communities in which they have settled.” [1] Such a problem is met with a mixed response from researchers. One study observes that immigrants do not pose an overall financial burden on the citizenry. However, the same study says in contrast that in a localized context, a concentrated immigrant population can and often does prove to be a financial issue for the community. [2] Such a burden is attributed not to the immigrants themselves, but to an insufficient appropriation of resources to these particular geographical areas. However, in many of these locations, immigrants and natives often live in close proximity. The lack of coordination between local, state, and Federal authorities results in insufficient federal funding to these locales. Unfortunately, such problems result in negative perceptions toward immigrants.

In contrast to Edwards’ assumptions regarding the taxes paid by immigrants, Stephen Moore, an economist with the Cato Institute, observes that many immigrants do indeed contribute tax revenue toward the public services they use. In fact, Moore finds the average immigrant pays nearly $80,000 more in taxes than they receive in benefits over their lifetime. This is based on the immigrant paying an average of $105,000 more to the federal government than benefits received from the federal government while receiving on average $25,000 in benefits more from state  and local governments than is paid to state and local governments. [3]

The data collected from naturalized immigrants suggests they generally have a positive effect on public resources and nation-wide economics. As one author states, “immigrants do not further split up the pie; they enlarge it.” [4] The glaring problem in this comparison, however, is the missing factor of undocumented immigrants. One can do little more than speculate on the extent to which undocumented immigrants impact the economic well-being of native and naturalized citizens. This is a very important consideration for which information is limited. No doubt the factor of undocumented immigrants fuels the debate since that unknown factor skews existing data. Proposed immigration reforms must account for and address the problem of undocumented immigrants. Such options will be discussed later in this series.

Christians will differ on how to address the economic issues related to immigration policy. But believers can certainly agree that no person, immigrant or native should be measured by their potential capital output, but rather by their status as bearers of God’s image.

[1] Swain, Debating Immigration, 60

[2] Pilar Marrero, Killing the American Dream: How Anti-immigration Extremists Are Destroying the Nation (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 194

[3] Stephen Moore, A Fiscal Portrait of the Newest Americans (Washington, D.C.: National Immigration Forum, 1998), 20.

[4] Tanya Maria. Golash-Boza, Due Process Denied: Detentions and Deportations in the United States (New York: Routledge, 2012), 204

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