Study Finds Illegal Immigration in Colorado May Pay
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By J Boven
"What about illegal don't you understand" has become the rallying call for talk show hosts, many tea party goers, and individuals concerned by what they see as a growing influence on U.S. culture by people migrating from Latin American countries into the United States. Yet, for policy makers and individual citizens, the conversation can be complicated by convoluted figures and emotions that span the spectrum of opinion – leading many to admit that there is a lot about "illegal" they really don't understand. Now, a study by a Colorado think tank says at least the economic portion of the argument may look better for those not dead-set against the undocumented population. The study found that despite former findings that illegal immigrants are costing the state, illegal aliens now pay for themselves through taxes and help drive the Colorado economy.
According to the reports Colorado's undocumented workers: What they pay, what they cost in taxes and Undocumented immigrant workers in Colorado play an important role in the state's economy put out by the left-leaning Bell Policy Center, the cost of undocumented immigration to the state is covered by the taxes paid by the illegal immigrants themselves, but the economic impact of their spending generates considerable benefits for the state.
"This analysis clearly shows that claims that undocumented immigrants are the cause of our budget problems are way off base," said Rich Jones, director of policy and research at the Bell Policy Center. "They are not eligible for and do not receive most government services. In fact, they pay enough in taxes to cover the costs of providing federally mandated services to them."
While a similar report put out by the Center in 2006 found undocumented immigrant households paid $159 million to $194 million in total taxes and the cost for mandated services to be close to $225 million, the organization says those numbers have changed as the undocumented are seeing bigger paychecks while their numbers decrease.
The Bell's study explained that since 2006, the national average income of undocumented immigrant households has risen to $36,000, which has generated increased tax dollars for the state. At the same time, the cost of the immigrants' population has gone down, due in part to the overall reduction of the population since 2007 of both illegal immigrants and their school age dependents.
As a result of increases in salary, undocumented immigrants paid an estimated $167.5 million in income, property and sales taxes in 2010, which the study says covered the $166.5 million dollar cost of K-12 education, emergency medical care and jail and prison incarceration the states spends on the population. However, the economic activity generated by undocumented immigrant households accounts for an additional 91,000 jobs statewide, $4.7 billion in personal income and $15 billion in industry output.
The Pew Hispanic Center found that 180,000 illegal immigrants are currently living in Colorado as of 2010. Undocumented immigrants account for 5 percent of the state's workforce and 3 percent of state personal income, and produce 7 percent of Colorado's economic output.
The report contradicts a study conducted in 2008 by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), an organization that looks to stop all illegal immigration and reduce immigration into the United States, that found Colorado tax payers were spending $1.1 billion dollars on illegal immigrant services annually.
Some of the differences in the figures can be found in the decreasing immigration population in the United States. The Pew Hispanic Center recently issued a report that showed the estimated number of illegal immigrants living in the U.S. had dropped to 11.2 million nationwide since reaching a peak of 12 million in 2007. FAIR estimated in their 2008 report the number of those individuals in Colorado to be 270,000, while the Bell's numbers reflect more current figures.
Still, the major difference in the two studies ultimately can be found in the education costs. FAIR calculated the number of illegal alien students in K-12 education at roughly 35,000 and then included the number of children they estimated were born to illegal aliens residing in the state. Together, the two figures added up to close to 84,000 children in Colorado K-12. In addition, FAIR estimated a 2007 per pupil funding for all those students at an English Language Learning rate based on a 2005 projection of $11,000. Including the cost of special English language classes for the majority of those students, FAIR found that the total cost, minus federal dollars, to the state was $956 million dollars.
The Bell Policy Center, however, used more recent average per pupil funding numbers for the state ($6,822 per student), did not count those children born in the U.S., and accounted for those under 5-years old who would likely not be attending school. They calculated, based on PEW Hispanic Center figures, that there were currently 15,763 undocumented students in K-12 schools, costing the state $107,535,186.
Whichever study one chooses to use, recent figures show that immigration from Mexico and across our southern border have slowed down considerably due to the economic downturn in the United States, yet fervent opposition to the undocumented in the country continues to run high. And while Michigan's Governor, Rick Snyder, has said that more immigration is necessary to bring about innovation and called for federal immigration reform to help stem the tide of foreign graduates being forced to leave the country after graduation, others continue to fear that the United States simply needs to renounce ideas of a "path to citizenship" and put up a fence along our southern border.
Whatever the opinion, it seems clear that immigrant populations are a function of global economic tides and the final question may be whether the U.S. can harness those for its advantage.
Facts found in the Bell Policy Center Report:
- In Colorado, for every job held by an undocumented immigrant, 0.8 jobs are created
- Undocumented immigrants work mostly in construction, services, leisure and hospitality and manufacturing
- Colorado had an estimated 15,763 undocumented students between 5 and 17 years old; funding for them represents less than 2 percent of total state and local K-12 spending
- Colorado spent $26.5 million to provide emergency medical care to non-citizens in 2010-11 (not all of whom were undocumented immigrants); that total represents just over 0.5 percent of the state budget for health care
- The net cost of holding undocumented immigrants in jails and prisons in Colorado was $32.5 million in 2009, or about 4.2 percent of the state budget for prisons
- Undocumented immigrants pay sales taxes on the goods they buy; in 2010, this amounted to $114.6 million in Colorado
- Undocumented immigrants also paid $30.9 million in property taxes, mostly as part of their rent payments
- Undocumented immigrants have $30.9 million in income taxes withheld from paychecks.