Immigration study holds no real promise

Posted Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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norman Most of the people who have said they will be running for state comptroller next year say it’s time to update a 2006 study on the economic impact of illegal immigrants in Texas, Texas Tribune reporter Julián Aguilar wrote in a story published Wednesday.

I have to wonder why they want to spend taxpayer dollars on that new study.

The numbers have changed some. The Pew Research Center estimates there were 1.7 million illegal immigrants in Texas in 2012, while the 2006 study was based on an estimated 1.4 million illegal residents.

But what reason would there be to expect the basic conclusions of the 2006 report to be different today?

For its bottom line, the 2006 report, issued by then-Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, said illegal immigrants had a positive $17.7 billion impact on the gross state product and contributed $424.7 million more in various taxes and other state revenue than Texas paid out in services to them.

The picture is quite different on the local level, where costs of incarceration, education and healthcare hit hard. The 2006 report said local governments paid out an estimated $928.9 million more than they brought in from illegal immigrants in various taxes and fees.

Assuming all of these estimates were true, the net direct cost to Texans for illegal immigrants in 2006 was about $500 million. That’s setting aside the estimate that these immigrants, by their hard work, kicked the gross state product up by $17.7 billion.

Back-of-the-envelope calculations show that the illegal immigrant population in the state has gone up almost 18 percent, but for round numbers call it 20 percent. If the net direct cost has gone up proportionately, it’s now at $600 million.

Whose mind is that $100 million shift going to change on the subject of state policy toward illegal immigrants?

The Texas Tribune story said Debra Medina, a Republican candidate for governor in 2010 and now a comptroller wannabe, wants an update because state policy should be decided on facts, not emotion. Other candidates supporting a new study are state Sen. Glenn Hegar of Katy, state Reps. Harvey Hilderbran of Kerrville and Democrat Mike Collier of Kingwood.

“While many of the conclusions drawn were based on assumption, the (2006) report certainly highlights the need to address in a meaningful way our policies, both at the state and local level, regarding migrants in Texas,” Medina said.

No argument there. But the point is, those numbers have been available for seven years and had no impact on the emotional tone of the immigration debate.

Incremental change in the numbers during that period isn’t likely to alter that.

Hot-button issues on immigration like restrictions on so-called “sanctuary cities” raised tempers but not enough votes to pass in previous legislative sessions. They were no-shows in this year’s session. A bill to create a driver’s license for illegal immigrants failed, as did a resolution urging Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

The ambivalence might have been due more to uncertain politics than lack of interest. In last year’s presidential election, Democrat Barack Obama won re-election partly by taking 71 percent of the Hispanic vote.

That told reeling Republicans they had to appear not quite so hostile to the predominantly Hispanic illegal immigrant population, so immigration issues stepped to the rear of the legislative chambers.

Immigration should play a stronger role when lawmakers go back to Austin for the 2015 session, and whoever is elected comptroller can help.

The 2006 report said services to illegal immigrants in 2004 cost local hospitals $1.3 billion more than they got in state reimbursements.

Incarceration of illegal immigrants cost local governments $141.9 million in 2005.

Maybe the state could distribute its $424.7 million profit from illegal immigrants to help defray these local costs.

Mike Norman is editorial director of the Star-Telegram. 817-390-7830 Twitter: @mnorman9

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