Conservatives Slam Heritage Foundation For Dishonest Anti-Immigrant Report

As lawmakers prepare to unveil a comprehensive immigration bill in the Senate, the Heritage Foundation is readying a flawed analysis to counter the momentum for a path to citizenship. The report will reprise Heritage senior fellow Robert Rector’s arguments from 2007 that reform will cost taxpayers at least $2.6 trillion by the time immigrants reach retirement age due to Social Security and Medicare benefits.

But other conservative groups and top Republican senators are pushing back on the flawed analysis. Americans for Tax Reform and Cato Institute have already distanced themselves from Heritage’s position. They describe Rector’s 2007 analysis as “fatally” and “severely flawed” and assure that it does not speak for the conservative movement.

CATO rejected Heritage’s methodology in a blog post last week. CATO’s Alex Nowrasteh details 11 factors that Heritage does not consider: “That 2007 report’s flawed methodology produced a grossly exaggerated cost to federal taxpayers of legalizing unauthorized immigrants while undercounting or discounting their positive tax and economic contributions – greatly affecting the 2007 immigration reform debate.” Cato notes that the long path to citizenship also mostly excludes immigrants from access to Medicaid and social services.

Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform also piled on to the criticism. According to Roll Call, ATR wrote to congressional offices on Tuesday, “Unfortunately, Rector’s study was severely flawed in its methodology, and thus in its findings.” They note, “Robert Rector’s work does not speak for the conservative movement; in fact, it does not even speak for the Heritage Foundation.”

Indeed, a 2006 backgrounder from Heritage contradicts the think tank’s claims. Heritage then claimed that undocumented immigrants pay far more in taxes than what they consume, and “the argument that immigrants harm the American economy should be dismissed out of hand.” Heritage now ignores these contributions and the higher wages the undocumented can earn once they achieve legal status (which would allow them to make higher contributions to Social Security and Medicare) and only focuses on how immigrants would affect the economy after age 67.

On Tuesday, the conservative American Action Forum also released a report that discredits Heritage’s argument: “A benchmark immigration reform would raise the pace of economic growth by nearly a percentage point over the near term, raise GDP per capita by over $1,500 and reduce the cumulative federal deficit by over $2.5 trillion,” AAF economist Douglas Holtz Eakin concludes. AAF explains that immigrants add to labor force population, innovation, and economic productivity, which translates into rapid overall growth in GDP.

Meanwhile, Center for American Progress estimates citizenship for immigrants would grow the GDP by up to $1.4 trillion over 10 years, lead to $791 billion in Americans’ personal income, and add $184 billion in state and federal tax revenue. This estimate is in-line with the field of research, from conservatives as well as the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, that find legalization is a net plus for the economy.