Immigration: Senate’s Amnesty Would Cost Trillions

Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA/Newscom

In 2007, The Heritage Foundation estimated that amnesty would cost the U.S. taxpayer trillions of dollars over the lifetimes of the immigrants who are legalized. We will soon release an updated analysis. It is a resounding rebuttal to the claim from amnesty supporters that a long waiting period between the initial amnesty and citizenship will eliminate any major costs to taxpayers.

S. 744, the comprehensive immigration reform supported by the “Gang of Eight,” would grant amnesty within six months to nearly all illegal immigrants living in the U.S. as of 2011. However, an individual receiving amnesty would have to wait 10 years before becoming a legal permanent resident (a “green card” holder) and three more years before becoming a naturalized citizen. This window of ineligibility for many government services has led supporters to argue that an amnesty will not be costly.

There are two problems with this argument. First, households headed by illegal immigrants today consume some government services and pay far less in taxes. Under current law, such households already run a net fiscal deficit. During the provisional status, the deficit would go down slightly as legalized individuals begin paying more taxes. But note that illegal households cost taxpayers money even before full permanent residency is achieved.

The second problem with the view that amnesty would not be costly because of the waiting period is rather obvious: After the waiting period is over, lifetime costs will be substantial. The Heritage Foundation analysis has and will explicitly separate its cost estimates among current law, the provisional period, and after individuals receiving amnesty become eligible for the full suite of government benefits. The estimates for the final period in our research will be calculated beginning 14 years after the initial amnesty, which is the point at which recipients could become naturalized citizens. During this final period, the net fiscal deficit experienced by illegal households would be enormous. It is myopic to view the cost of amnesty over only a 10-year window when individuals receiving amnesty are eligible to stay for life.

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