FAIR-y Tales In the Immigration Debate

Anti-immigrant think tanks are aiming their dubious statistics at the 14th Amendment

Giovanni Peri, an economist at UC Davis and an expert on the contributions of immigrants to economies, says, “Education spending is always considered an investment, not a cost, because it adds to the productivity of the country.”

And Daniel Griswold of the libertarian Cato Institute writes in a 2007 report titled “The Fiscal Impact of Immigration Reform: The Real Story” that it would be misleading to “count the costs of educating the children of an immigrant without considering the future taxes paid by the educated children once they have grown and entered the workforce.”

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Ted Hayes poses with friends at the pro-SB 1070 rally
Terry Greene Sterling
Ted Hayes poses with friends at the pro-SB 1070 rally
A scene from the June 5 rally in Phoenix
Terry Greene Sterling
A scene from the June 5 rally in Phoenix

Details

Editor's note: Former Phoenix New Times staff writer Terry Greene Sterling is the author of the new book Illegal: Life and Death In Arizona's Immigration War Zone and is writer-in-residence at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. Jennifer Gaie Hellum assisted with research on white-nationalist groups. Sterling's personal website is www.terrygreenesterling.com.

See also:
Fantasy Voter Fraud
Whose Dole is It, Anyway?
Mexican Macroeconomics
Bookworms

Educated voices of reason are drowned out by FAIR’s populist appeal. If you want to measure the nonprofit’s effectiveness at convincing Americans that illegal immigrants are an undue burden on taxpayers, consider this: U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a staunch supporter a few months ago of legalizing the undocumented already in the United States, now seeks hearings on whether their kids should be citizens.

“People come here to have babies,” he told FOX News in July. “They come here to drop a child.”

His assertion that parents illegally enter the United States just to pop out “anchor babies” to obtain parental green cards makes no sense. Under current immigration law, undocumented parents would have to wait for their “anchor babies” to reach adulthood before they could legally apply for parental green cards. And if the parents live illegally in the United States, immigration authorities generally require they return to Mexico and stay there for 10 years before the U.S. government will consider giving them green cards.

But this doesn’t stop Graham’s bluster. He has even hinted he might introduce legislation to change the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. Such an effort has long been championed by the OC-based California Coalition for Immigration Reform, the author of 1994’s notorious Proposition 187.

If a birthright-citizenship law were passed, it would create a burgeoning, illegal, illiterate and expensive underclass. What’s more, if children of the undocumented were deprived of schooling, government revenues would plummet. A 2007 Columbia University study titled “The Costs and Benefits of an Excellent Education for America’s Children” found that even kids who needed expensive interventions (such as English classes) in order to get their high-school diplomas netted the public purse an average of $127,000 per student over a lifetime.

On the other hand, the same study reports, high-school dropouts tend to commit more crimes, be less healthy, rely more on public benefits and pay fewer taxes.

CIS has long pointed to a 30-plus percent dropout rate among Latino immigrants. The implication is that Mexicans drain the economy with social costs, and if they don’t leave, it will only get worse. As if to underscore the Mexican menace, the Citizenship and Immigration Services website displays hidden-camera-on-the-border videos of brown people purportedly sneaking into the country.

Scaremongering about Latino dropout rates is based on National Center for Education Statistics data on the “16- to 24-year-old status dropout rate.”

Richard Fry, of the Pew Hispanic Center, determined that 38 percent of Hispanic immigrants, ages 16 to 24, were high-school dropouts.

But here’s the catch, according to Fry: The 38 percent dropout rate includes thousands of young immigrant laborers with minimal educations who never attended American schools. They’re still counted by the National Center for Education Statistics as high-school dropouts because they haven’t finished 12 years of schooling.

The sadder part of this story is that U.S.-born Hispanics actually do have a relatively high dropout rate—11 percent. That’s not a good statistic, and it does have social costs. But it’s impossible to tie this rate to illegal immigration, as Fry says there’s no way to determine how many of these U.S.-born dropouts are children of the undocumented.

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Seeing their peers waste educational opportunities mightily frustrates many of about 825,000 undocumented immigrant children known as “DREAMers.”

Brought to the United States as children by undocumented relatives, about 65,000 of them graduate from American high schools every year. Many have made it through college on private scholarships and graduate with honors.

But they can’t legally work in the United States, even though they self-identify as Americans.

By now, most of us have heard of the feel-good federal legislation called the DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act, which would allow undocumented high-school grads without criminal records temporary legal residency so they could attend college or trade school or join the military. They’d get green cards only if they lived up to their end of the bargain. Then, eventually, they’d qualify for citizenship. They would work, pay taxes, shore up the middle class and strengthen the military if they only had a chance, their advocates say.

The law has been introduced every year since 2001, and it’s getting a last-chance airing as 2010 draws to a close.

FAIR has successfully blocked DREAM Act legislation, decrying it as closeted amnesty for illegal aliens and condemning it as an incentive for further illegal immigration into the United States.

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