Demagoguery and the issue of illegal immigration are no strangers, so it's no real surprise to see a new report from the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) that makes extravagant claims about how much illegal immigrants cost US taxpayers each year. The report's headline — that nationwide, illegal immigrants cost $100 billion a year more in public services than they pay in federal, state and local taxes — has so far been deservedly ignored by pretty much everyone except a cadre of right-wing blogs and anti-immigrant electoral candidates. But it's worth briefly paying attention to, if only to appreciate the utter shoddiness of the research behind this headline.
As the Tax Foundation has already noted, the report appears to have misplaced $9 billion in immigrants' Social Security taxes through a single math error. But the mistakes keep on coming when you look at the state and local tax estimates in the report.
It would come as news to residents of most states to know that their spending on clothing, utilities, transportation, housing and food was completely exempt from sales taxes. Yet FAIR makes this simplifying (and transparently wrong) assumption about every state, and cheerfully asserts that a typical immigrant consumer ultimately finds only 10 percent of their spending subject to sales tax. The report also assumes that undocumented immigrants neither smoke nor drink nor drive cars. It also ignores business sales taxes, which generally represent more than a third of the sales taxes falling on consumers.
The debate over US immigration policy already sheds more heat than light, and this week's FAIR report only makes this problem worse.