According to a study by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) the annual bill to U.S. taxpayers for illegal immigration is $100 billion and about 75 percent of the total is borne by state and local taxpayers. In Kansas that bill is estimated to be $442 million a year.
FAIR’s study, “The Fiscal Burden of Illegal Immigration on United States Taxpayers,” based the cost estimates on analysis of federal, state and local spending data.
Jack Martin, one of the study’s authors, told KansasWatchdog there was a good bit of estimation because little data is collected on illegal immigrants.
A 2008 Kansas Legislative Post Audit report (PDF) found little Kansas-specific information on the economic impact of illegal immigration in Kansas.
“Ofﬁcials from several State agencies told us that although they have the authority to ask program participants if they are here legally, they generally don’t ask. For example, because the Department of Education is required to provide education services regardless of the child’s immigration status, they don’t inquire about students’ legal status. However, agencies that are required by federal law to determine the applicants’ legal status for program eligibility purposes do so. For example, Kansas Health Policy Authority ofﬁcials told us they verify citizenship and identity documents for Medicaid applicants.”
The Pew Hispanic Center estimates the number of illegal immigrants in the United States has grown dramatically since the early 1990s, reaching an estimated 12.4 million by 2007. The Center estimates that between 40,000 and 70,000 illegal immigrants resided in Kansas as of 2005.
According to Pew, the number of legal immigrants arriving in the U.S. has remained steady since the 1980s but the number of illegal aliens has increased dramatically and, since the mid 1990s, has surpassed the number of legal immigrants (PDF).
Schools, which account for the biggest cost of illegal immigration to taxpayers, don’t ask about a student’s citizenship status. FAIR estimates it costs Kansas taxpayers $259 million annually to fund public K-12 education for illegal immigrants and children born here to illegal immigrants.
That estimate may be low. Some district superintendents appearing before legislative committees last year said English language learners in their districts typically also qualify for several other state and federal programs that add to the cost of education.
The Dodge City district, USD443, reported 55 percent of its 5,551 students were English language learners in 2009, the second highest percent among Kansas districts. USD483 Kismet, in Seward County, reported 60 percent of its students were ELL in 2009, the highest percentage among Kansas districts. Seward County.
Martin said it will take time for stricter immigration laws and enforcement to reduce costs. “You can’t logically expect that that amount of money would be saved from one year to the next. In the same way it’s built up since the last amnesty in 1986, it’s going to take years to diminish that illegal alien population.
“But that’s not a reason not to start the process with adopting effective means to stop the flow of illegal aliens coming into the country,” Martin added.
“I think this is fairly well understood by the public and that is reflected in public opinion polls,” Martin said. “Given a choice of more effective controls of illegal immigration or accommodating the presence of the illegal aliens here, a majority of the public is for enforcement.”
The debate over what to do about illegal immigration is heating up. Oklahoma, Utah and South Carolina are likely to pass Arizona-style measures according to the Washington Post.
A recent poll also indicate that 56 percent of voters oppose the federal lawsuit to overturn Arizona’s immigration law and 58 percent favor a law similar to Arizona’s in their own state
Rhode Island already checks immigration status and deports illegal aliens. “There are police chiefs throughout New England who hide from the issue,’’ the commander of the Rhode Island State Police told the Boston Globe. “I would feel that I’m derelict in my duties to look the other way.’’
If FAIR’s estimates are even close to correct the cost of illegal immigration is a major factor in state budgets.
“If political leaders in Washington and state capitals want to understand why the American public is demanding enforcement of our immigration laws, The Fiscal Burden of Illegal Immigration on U.S. Taxpayers, provides 113 billion good reasons,” said FAIR president Dan Stein.