The most recent issue of Social Contract Press cheers Arizona's SB 1070 victory and includes an article by Russell Pearce.

Sometimes, when Tanton looks at how FAIR, NumbersUSA, the CIS, and other groups he's touched have succeeded in turning the immigration debate his way, the old man feels a certain satisfaction about his life's work.

"It is amazing," he says, "how well we've done."

A display of buttons for sale at the June 5 pro-SB 1070 rally.
Terry Greene Sterling
A display of buttons for sale at the June 5 pro-SB 1070 rally.
In the eye of the hurricane: Protesters at an immigration rally.
Social Eye Media
In the eye of the hurricane: Protesters at an immigration rally.


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

Whose Dole Is It, Anyway?

Unauthorized immigrants make up just more than 3 percent of the U.S. population, But they're accused of sucking up public benefits and dodging taxes.

Illegal aliens are tax dodgers.

That's one of the most shocking findings of FAIR's most recent report on the "cost of illegal immigration.

"Most illegal aliens do not pay income taxes," FAIR reports. "Among those who do, much of the revenues collected are refunded to the illegal aliens when they file tax returns. Many are also claiming tax credits resulting in payments from the U.S. Treasury."

The Center for Comparative Immigration Studies in San Diego begs to differ. It found 75 percent of undocumented California immigrants paid income taxes in 2006.

In 2007, the Congressional Budget Office reported that about half of all unauthorized immigrants pay Social Security taxes.

Using fake Social Security cards, unauthorized immigrants pay into the Social Security unclaimed Earning Suspense File. That kitty had grown to more than $500 billion by 2005, the Immigration Policy Center says.

The unclaimed money generated between $6 billion and $7 billion in income for Social Security beneficiaries, along with about $1.5 billion for Medicare, the New York Times reported in 2007.

Many economists report that, far from being leeches, immigrants pay more in taxes than they receive in services.

Unauthorized immigrants in Arizona, and many legal immigrants, aren't eligible for Food Stamps, Welfare, Medicare, Social Security. They do get emergency Medicaid benefits, if they're poor enough, under certain limited conditions — mortal illness, injuries, pregnancy. In addition, they use hospital emergency rooms less than native-born patients. And since unauthorized immigrants make up a little more than 3 percent of the U.S. population, it's unlikely that they're bankrupting hospitals by invading emergency rooms. (Of course, hospital emergency rooms aren't allowed to ask who is legal and who isn't, so it's a moot point.)

"The consensus of the economics literature is that the taxes paid by immigrants and their descendants exceed the benefits they receive — that on balance they are a net positive for the federal budget," the Brookings Institution reports in its recently published "Ten Economic Facts About Immigration."

Mexican Macro-economics

Do undocumented migrants steal jobs from American workers?

In 2007, the U.S. Senate debated the doomed McCain-Kennedy "comprehensive immigration reform" bill that aimed to secure borders, enforce workplaces, modernize the visa system, and allow non-criminal undocumented immigrants already in the country to pay a fine and stand in line for legal residency. (Under the proposed law, an immigrant would be denied public benefits until five years after his green card was issued.)

At the time of the debate, the Heritage Foundation issued a policy paper with an alarming headline: "Amnesty Will Cost U.S. Taxpayers at Least $2.6 Trillion."

The Heritage Foundation, a think tank that shares funders and a hard-line immigration stance with FAIR and its sister organizations, reported that migrants already living illegally in the United States, if given amnesty, would cost the country trillions in Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security costs as they aged.

A year after the Heritage report was released, then-Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas paid Harvard economist George Borjas a reported $625 an hour for a study that suggested illegal immigrants drove down wages and cost Arizona $1.4 billion in lost wages in 2005.

John Tanton's groups, which include FAIR, also reported that undocumented immigrants take jobs from low-skilled American workers. Taken together, the reports sent a clear message: Illegal aliens drive down wages and burden taxpayers.

If illegal immigrants returned to Mexico, the argument goes, American workers would step right into their jobs, pay taxes, and shore up the economy.

It is an argument that resonates with American voters.

Even though it's not necessarily true.

In 2007, Edward Lazear, chairman of the George W. Bush White House Council of Economic Advisors, conducted an extensive review of reports on the effects of all immigration, legal and illegal, on the economy. Lazear concluded: "Our review of economic research finds immigrants not only help fuel the nation's economic growth, but also have an overall positive effect on the income of native-born workers."

It's harder to tell just how illegal immigration affects the economy, though.

At the very worst, the effect of undocumented immigrants on the American economy is negligible, economist Gordon Hanson, of the University of California-San Diego, reported in 2009. Using data from the National Bureau of Economic Research, Hanson, commissioned by the pro-immigrant Migration Policy Institute, wrote: "If we account for the small fiscal burden that unauthorized immigrants impose, the overall economic benefit is close enough to zero to be essentially a wash."

A wash.

Not $113 billion a year, as the FAIR report contends. And certainly not trillions of dollars, as the Heritage report contends.

Hanson concluded that those hurt by illegal immigration are low-skilled workers who compete directly with the undocumented workers. He reported that individual economic losses were offset by advantages to businesses that employ the low-wage immigrants.

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