Today, the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) — known as the “nativist lobby’s supposedly ‘independent’ think tank” — held a panel on immigration’s impact on health care reform. As usual, the group which has been regularly characterized as having “never found any aspect of immigration it likes,” used the current health care debate as an opportunity to argue that immigration is bad for America.
According to CIS, immigrants account for 27.1% of the uninsured and 64% of undocumented immigrants were uninsured in 2006. However, it’s puzzling that CIS can reach any conclusion about the undocumented population when its analysis is supposedly based on data from the Current Population Survey (CPS), which doesn’t ask questions about its respondents’ immigration status. They also don’t mention that the majority of uninsured people — 78% — are US citizens. All of this data is weakly tied to the point that most of these immigrants will be covered by health care legislation and that will pave the way for rabid reform that gives undocumented immigrants access to all government benefits. Panelist Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation explains:
“We have a complete open door for every illegal immigrant current and in the future to simply enroll and receive benefits under this program. We will not only not check them at the door, we will not check them once they begin to receive the benefits. If you’re going to do that with respect to health care, why would you not also establish the same precedent with respect to food stamps, public housing, earned income taxed credit and so forth. And I believe that that is in fact the direction that Congress wants to go to to allow all welfare benefits to be fully available to all illegal immigrants...we will begin to draw the seriously ill from all over the world to begin to come here to receive free medical treatment…it is an absolutely mind boggling precedent.”
Both the Senate and House proposed health care bills explicitly state that undocumented immigrants will not be eligible for any federal health care insurance, but Rector is all worked up because there aren’t any harsh immigration enforcement mechanisms built into the bill. There’s actually a good reason for that. An article in the Hoefstra Law Review points out that when Colorado passed a series of controversial measures requiring applicants for most state benefits to prove their immigration status, the effect on US citizens was devastating. It cost the state $2 million in its first year alone and, despite having promised to eliminate 50,000 undocumented immigrants from the state’s public benefit rolls, as of October 2008 state officials could not identify how many, if any, undocumented immigrants were being denied public services. Another study by the Government Accountability Office found that documentation requirements used to prove medicaid eligibility caused thousands of eligible U.S. citizens to lose Medicaid coverage without saving taxpayers any money: for every $100 spent by taxpayers to implement documentation requirements in six states, only 14 cents were saved.
It is however true that the US needs to do something about its broken immigration system — which brings CIS to it’s main point and motivation for talking about health care in the first place. CIS Research Director Steven Camarota explains:
“If we want to reduce the uninsured population and avoid large costs for taxpayers in the health care system we need to enforce immigration laws and reduce illegal immigrants. And on legal immigration, moving forward in the future, we would need to allow in many fewer immigrants who have little education.”
CIS and Rector aren’t likely to admit it, but the Congressional Budget Office estimates that, had the US legalized undocumented immigrants under the 2007 immigration bill, it would have generated $48 billion in new revenue from administrative fees and income and payroll taxes alone.