Bill O’Reilly is a nuisance, and a particularly dangerous one. He is a nuisance because he perpetuates conservative myths, and he is dangerous because of the influence he wields. Lately, O’Reilly has been critical of liberals for supposedly being too compassionate and labeling the recent influx of immigrants at the southern US border as “refugees”, as indeed many are fleeing violence and poor economic conditions. These are people, many of whom are children, seeking refuge in the United States. What are they if not refugees?
Semantics are less important than the blatant falsehoods O’Reilly perpetuates. First, the US is not facing a crisis. States such as Texas and Arizona may well be seeing a recent increase in unauthorized immigrants, but certainly no government budgets or economies are at stake.
In 2006, the Office of the Texas Comptroller—over which Carole Keeton Strayhorn presided—estimated 1.4 million unauthorized immigrants residing in Texas during fiscal year 2005. During this time, the 1.4 million unauthorized immigrants living in Texas were responsible for $17.7 billion in gross state product, meaning they added $17.7 billion to the Texas economy.
Furthermore, the unauthorized immigrant population of Texas actually paid more in state taxes that fiscal year than they consumed in state services. The State of Texas collected an estimated $1.58 billion in taxes from its unauthorized immigrant population, yet they only consumed about $1.16 billion in state services, meaning they generated a net $420 million in state revenue.
However, local Texas governments (i.e. cities, counties and districts) collectively did suffer a net loss. Unauthorized immigrants consumed an estimated $1.442 billion in Texas local services on aggregate, yet paid $513 million in Texas local taxes, with an estimated difference of $928.9 million.
It is important to point out this difference is not indicative of Texas local governments each having ran a deficit, nor does it indicate each Texas local government to have suffered a net loss. What this means is that when all Texas local services consumed by unauthorized immigrants is subtracted from the total amount of Texas local taxes paid by unauthorized immigrants, Texas local governments as a whole incur a relatively minor cost, namely for health care and law enforcement. That’s pretty self-explanatory, but a fact that is easily misconstrued by conservatives.
If the State of Texas had subsidized the cost of unauthorized immigration to its local governments, then the State of Texas would have incurred a net loss in revenue (strictly in terms of unauthorized immigration) of approximately $509 million, but that’s hardly a scratch on the state’s colossal ’04-’05 $126.6 billion biennium budget, one overshadowed by the fact unauthorized immigrants contributed an $17.7 billion to the Texas economy in fiscal year 2005 alone. Conclusively, Texas as a state greatly benefits from its immigrant citizens at very little cost.
Of course, the impact of unauthorized immigration varies from state to state. The population of unauthorized immigrants differs, and some states provide more or less in the way of public goods and services, which affects the cost of unauthorized immigration. Some states also have an income tax, which tends to capture less economic activity and thus generates less revenue than a consumption tax like Texas has.
Overall, the Congressional Budget Office estimates the impact of unauthorized immigration on state and local budgets to be usually less than five percent. Furthermore, the majority of unauthorized immigrants are unable to receive most federal benefits such as Social Security, Food Stamps, Medicaid (except for emergency services) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. So, the impact unauthorized immigration has on the federal budget is likely to be even smaller. The IRS estimates a sizable number of unauthorized immigrants file individual income tax returns each year under special tax identification numbers. Federal law prohibits the IRS from sharing tax information with other government agencies such as the INS, so many unauthorized immigrants can and do pay federal income taxes.
Finally, O’Reilly also lies by asserting that unauthorized immigrants are and will continue to be a drain on society because they lack the necessary skills to compete in the US economy. Quite the opposite is true, actually. While most unauthorized immigrants are technically classified as “low-skilled labor” by economists due to lack of completing a formal education, technical training and the inability to speak English, our unauthorized immigrant population is a tremendous compliment to the US economy.
The Migration Policy Institute states that over the years the United States has continued to raise the quality of its education and the skills of its workers. As this causes a shift in the labor force in terms of education and skill, it creates a growing demand by producers for low-skilled labor, particularly in labor-intensive industries like agriculture, construction, food processing, lodging, restaurants, building cleaning and maintenance and other low-skilled occupations. The individuals and families that have immigrated to the United States fleeing violence and poor economic conditions are able to meet this demand. Therefore, they are an invaluable part of the US economy. This is consistent with basic economic principles and data collected by the CBO, Migration Policy Institute, et al.
This would imply low-skilled native labor must compete with low-skilled immigrant labor and the additional supply of low-skilled labor does have a modest dampening effect on low-skilled wages in the United States, but the majority of US consumers and producers benefit from immigration, legal or otherwise. Native low-skilled labor makes up a relatively small portion of the overall US labor market and is only getting smaller as the United States increases access to and quality of education. The “loss” to the US labor force is relatively small. Producers benefit from unauthorized immigration by way of a massive cheap labor force, particularly in low-skilled, labor-intensive industries, creating net gains to gross domestic product (GDP) known as immigration surplus.
The Migration Policy Institute cites the immigration surplus to have been at 0.03 percent of GDP in 2008. This figure is an approximate measure based on limiting assumptions, yet it is a decent implication of the magnitude of the overall impact of unauthorized immigration on the United States. 0.03 percent of GDP is small, and the Migration Policy Institute explains that even if measured too small by a factor of ten, the immigration surplus would still only amount to less than one-third of one percent of GDP.
It is important to note that nearly all metrics used for measuring the impact of unauthorized immigration on governments and economies are severely limited and only indirectly paint a picture of the overall impact unauthorized immigration has on the United States. The CBO states that many issues surround the methodology and data of available studies. For example:
- Which unit of time should be used to measure the impact of unauthorized immigration?
- Are all costs and revenues captured?
- Current estimates use varying sources of data for people and fiscal information.
- The unauthorized immigrant population is not defined the same way across reports.
- State and local governments vary widely in the types of benefits they provide and how they collect tax revenue.
- The impact in one jurisdiction cannot be generalized to other areas.
However, all the evidence and credible analyses suggest the economic impact unauthorized immigration has on the United States is small, and the benefit unauthorized immigrants and their families receive is invaluable: the chance to pursue happiness, and an opportunity to improve the quality of their lives and escape from often dangerous conditions.
“The magnitudes of the costs and benefits of illegal immigration hold several important lessons for policymakers. One is that notwithstanding all of the focus and controversy surrounding illegal immigration, the fate of the US economy is not riding on the country’s policy toward unauthorized workers. Allowing a few more or a few less unauthorized immigrants into the country would not have dire consequences.”—Migration Policy Institute, “The Economics and Policy of Illegal Immigration in the United States”
After considering analyses by the Congressional Budget Office, Migration Policy Institute et al, I know of no one that has said it better than Snoop Dogg when he said “Fuck Bill O’Reilly. He’s a motherfuckin’ prick”. The United States is a strong nation fully capable of supporting its immigrants. We are not facing an immigration crisis. Supporting our immigrants will not break this nation financially. The infrastructure of the United States is not in danger.
The federal budget for fiscal year 2013 totaled approximately $3. 8 trillion. Defense spending accounted for 18% ($625-billion) of the budget, or 3.8% of US GDP and over a third (36.6%) of all global military spending. Non-defense discretionary spending totaled at 17% ($576-billion) of the US budget. I’m sure between an overinflated defense budget of $625-billion and $576-billion of non-defense discretionary spending, a total of $1.2 trillion, we can spare a few billion to help improve the lives of those emigrating to the United States.
The United States spent $54-billion crusading through Iraq only to spite the world, destabilize the Middle East and catch civilians in the crossfire. Imagine if the federal government had instead sent that money to the states in order to better equip them to accommodate the influx of unauthorized immigrants. We likely would have improved more lives than any of the operations we’ve carried out in the Middle East in the last ten years.
And according to the Migration Policy Institute, the Obama Administration spent $18-billion on immigration enforcement programs during the 2012 fiscal year, more than was spent that fiscal year on all other law enforcement agencies combined. Rather than spending resources on immigration enforcement, we should be spending those resources instead on helping eager immigrants assimilate into the United States. It is the humane thing to do, and it is the right thing to do.
Immigrants come to the United States to better themselves, their families, be financially independent and be contributing members of society. If the well being of our family, or the life of our children, were to depend on us making the decision to illegally enter a foreign land in the hopes of a brighter future, I am willing to bet each and every one of us would make that choice every single time. We should not vilify those who face the arduous trials and tribulations to become United States citizens. We should be welcoming them with open arms and doing everything in our power to help them.
“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
‘Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!’ cries she
With silent lips. ‘Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
“The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus, written in 1883 and engraved within the Statue of Liberty in 1903