When members of Congress want unbiased estimates of the costs of proposed legislation they turn to non-partisan experts in the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), or the Chief Actuary of the United States, or staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT). Republican Representative and Chair of the House Committee of the Budget Paul Ryan and Senator Marco Rubio, member of the “Gang of Eight” who crafted the Senate immigration bill did just this recently to gauge the financial impacts of legalizing some eleven million undocumented immigrants on the US economy in general, and on Social Security, in particular.
To address the question of general economic impact the CBO turned to detailed analyses that had been conducted when the Senate considered similar legislation (that was ultimately unsuccessful). They and the staff of the JCT estimated that the bill—and legalization of undocumented immigrants– would increase federal revenues by $66 billion and direct spending by $54 billion over the 2007–2016 period. These gains were estimated because the bill would significantly “increase the size of the U.S. labor force (resulting in an estimated 3.4 million additional workers in the United States by 2016).”
What about Social Security? The Chief Actuary of the United States responded to Sen. Rubio’s inquiry about the potential effects of the Senate immigration bill with a letter stating that “We estimate a significant increase in both the population and the number of workers paying taxes in the United States as a result of these changes in legal immigration limits. Finally, we estimate that the measures in the bill for enforcement of border control and for employment verification will have significant effects on the future number of individuals entering the country without legal authorization. We estimate these provisions will reduce the number entering the country without authorization by about half a million per year by the time the measures are fully implemented. “
Other studies of costs examine social programs into which immigrants of all statuses pay, but for which only legal immigrants are eligible. Recently researchers at Harvard University published a paper demonstrating that, in recent years, immigrants have contributed billions of dollars more to Medicare than the program has paid out on their behalf.
Why then are some members of Congress calling for severe limits on immigrants’ access to income and benefits to which they contribute in taxes? The Senate bill includes a number of restrictions on the eligibility of immigrants to receive health and social benefits, even after achieving provisional legal status. Most notably, the original Affordable Care Act (ACA) denies undocumented immigrants the opportunity to receive subsidies or credits to buy health insurance through exchanges. During the Judiciary Committee debates Sen. Sessions of Alabama proposed an amendment that would have denied child tax credits to families without valid Social Security numbers, and denied the earned-income tax credit to individuals with temporary legal status. Although these provisions failed in committee, they are likely to be reintroduced on the floor of the Senate. Similarly, Sen. Hatch of Utah is expected to propose a five-year ban on eligibility of legal permanent residents for subsidies under the Affordable Care Act.
If fairness dictates that undocumented immigrants must pay assessed taxes before attaining provisional legal status, and pay taxes while in provisional status, why does it not also mandate that newly incorporated immigrants have access to the pensions and social safety nets that are supported by their past and future tax contributions?