By Linda Chavez
The immigration debate has taken a sudden and nasty turn with the publication of a new report by The Heritage Foundation claiming that reform legislation will end up costing American taxpayers $6.3 trillion. The Heritage Foundation, one of the most respected conservative organizations in the U.S., has sullied its reputation by lending its name to this tendentious piece of propaganda.
First, the studygrossly exaggerates the “cost” of immigration reform by assuming that all of those who gain legal status will claim welfare and other social service benefits as soon as they become eligible. While it is true that Hispanic immigrants new to the U.S. are, on average, substantially poorer than the native-born population, they do not remain so. What’s more, low-income immigrants access welfare benefits at lower rates than the native-born and receive, on average, benefits that are significantly less than native-born recipients, according to a study by the Cato Institute.
More importantly, the children of Hispanic immigrants move into the social and economic mainstream quickly. There is no reason to believe they will become welfare-dependent, because they quickly close both the education and earnings gaps with other Americans. A study released by Pew this week shows that Hispanic high school graduates are now attending college at higher rates than non-Hispanic white graduates — a major change from the past.
Education is the single largest cost attributable to the U.S.-born children of immigrants (as well as those foreign born who came here as young children). But education, unlike food stamps for example, pays off in higher earnings for those children when they reach working age — and in the higher tax revenue they will contribute. Studies that factor in the contributions of the second generation against the costs to taxpayers of their early years show a net positive impact.
In every other sphere, Heritage maintains that economic analysis should be “dynamic.” In other words, such analyses should take into account the consequences of policies on the economy as a whole. But when it comes to the economic effects of immigration, Heritage eschews that approach.
The study ignores the effect the new law will have on expanding the economy, increasing the labor force, boosting the return on capital to U.S and raising the incomes of most Americans. Immigrants create jobs directly and indirectly. They consume goods and services, which fuels job creation. Many become entrepreneurs and small-business owners who hire others. And they keep jobs in the U.S. that might otherwise migrate to cheaper labor markets.
But the Heritage study is not only problematic because of its economic assumptions. Heritage is now trying to distance itself from one of the co-authors of its study, Jason Richwine, who has written for at least one white nationalist publication. In his doctoral dissertation, Richwine also wrote that immigrants have lower IQs than the native-born population and that, “No one knows whether Hispanics will ever reach IQ parity with whites, but the prediction that new Hispanic immigrants will have low-IQ children and grandchildren is difficult to argue against.” The premise of the statement is that “Hispanics” are a defined, homogenous group and that IQ is almost entirely heritable. Neither is true.
Hispanics are not a racially or genetically homogenous group. They include individuals whose ancestors are European, African or Indian — or some combination of these groups. Intermarriage between Hispanics and non-Hispanics are growing rapidly; more than a third of all Hispanic women are married to non-Hispanic whites, and the rate increases with education and generation. The Hispanic population is becoming “whiter” because a larger proportion is made up of the offspring of intermarriage. But I doubt this will allay the fears of Richwine and others who fret about the browning of America and falling IQs.
Richwine’s research on the subject of immigration and IQ follows a long tradition going back to the eugenicists and nativists of the previous century. In 1924, proponents of legislation to restrict immigration from southern and eastern Europe unfurled a chart in the U.S. Capitol rotunda showing the cost to taxpayers of supporting “social inadequates”: the Italians, Jews, Poles and others who were accused of degrading the American gene pool. The predictions of these nativists didn’t come true — nor will Heritage’s predictions of a permanent and expanding underclass fueled by immigration reform.
As a conservative and a longtime admirer of The Heritage Foundation, I am saddened that it would risk its reputation for sound economic analysis by promoting faulty research aimed at scaring rather than informing the public.