Anti-Immigrant Group Gins Up Outrage Over Educating Migrant Children

CREDIT: ThinkProgress/ Esther Y. Lee

Activist at the April 5th rally in front of the White House, holds a sign that reads, "We want education, not rejection."

Over the past few months, anti-immigrant groups have manufactured indignation over migrant children fleeing violence from Latin America to the United States by claiming that the kids are trying to receive immigration benefits, are disease-carriers, and could even pose serious issues for domestic security. In the latest effort to generate outrage against migrant children, one anti-immigrant group is claiming that children will drain taxpayer dollars and burden the education system. About 37,000 out of the 66,000 children are eligible for school enrollment this fall and a report released Tuesday by the immigration-restrictionist group Federation for American Immigration Reform estimates that the cost of educating child arrivals at the southern U.S. border could hover around $761 million.

Using its own methodology, FAIR estimates that the cost of educating migrant children is 75 percent more than the cost of educating children already in the system. Conservative outlets and politicians alike have already jumped at the chance to be furious that educating these children will be a “high cost to taxpayers,” but in a public school system that hosts 49.8 million children, the cost of educating these children is a “drop in the bucket.”

The report, which broke down estimates for each state, claims that it could cost millions to educate children since they would likely require Limited English Proficient (LEP) classes conducted in Spanish or other indigenous languages to Central America where many of these children are coming from. The data found that California, Texas, Florida, and New York would likely spend the most tax dollars on immigrant education: Texas could spend $77.67 million to educate 5,280 children and California could spend $63.9 million to educate 3,909 children. The analysis found that the cost breakdown to educate a child in California could be $16,683, while the one migrant child that Montana placed with a sponsor could cost $19,000.

Yet FAIR’s analysis provides little evidence pointing to how the author arrived at his calculation. While it’s fair to adjust the 2012 cost-per-pupil spending estimate with 2014 inflation, the organization calculates that it costs states nearly double per migrant child because they would likely need LEP education. In a footnote, the report explained that “the per pupil cost of educated unaccompanied minor students was calculated to be 0.75 higher than the average per pupil cost in each state.” Yet the report provides no rationale for why LEP education would cost 75 percent more per child or even why the cost per migrant child wildly fluctuates from state to state.

FAIR communications director Bob Dane wrote in an email to ThinkProgress Wednesday, “Standard cost of LEP is anywhere from 10 [percent] to 200 [percent] of base cost. The [unaccompanied alien minors] are going to be on the higher end of the cost spectrum because of poverty and previous lack of education. In addition, they will need other services such as remedial education and free lunch.”

Breaking down the numbers even further, all children are taxpayer-funded expenditures. For the current 2014-15 school year, the National Center for Education Statistics projects that the current expenditure per student is $12,281. Incorporating 37,000 children into a population of about 49.8 million public school children, the migrant children make up less than 1/100th of one percent of the total student population. What’s more, the total 66,000 children who have fled violence make up one-and-a-half of one percent of all immigrants in the U.S.

The economic argument against educating migrant children is a tactic that organizations like FAIR, its sister organizations, and the influential conservative think tank Heritage Foundation have peddled in the past as part of its immigration-restrictionist agenda. Last year, a controversial author at the Heritage Foundation claimed that immigration reform could cost taxpayers $6.3 trillion, an argument that some conservative politicians were eager to amplify. Heritage was also behind another report that successfully killed immigration reform in 2007, at the time arguing that comprehensive immigration reform could cost taxpayers $2.6 trillion and that “low-skilled immigrant households cost taxpayers $89 billion more each year than they pay in taxes.”

FAIR has long produced other anti-immigration research and helped lead the campaign that begat both Arizona and Alabama’s anti-immigration state laws. It most recently engaged in asking congressional candidates to sign a pledge supporting an anti-immigrant platform. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) even declared FAIR a hate group as far back as 2008.